Title: Defy the Stars
Author: Claudia Gray
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Little, Brown
Publication Date: April 2017
Hardcover: 503 Pages
Our worlds belong to us.
She’s a soldier.
Noemi Vidal is seventeen years old and sworn to protect her planet, Genesis. She’s willing to risk anything—including her own life. To their enemies on Earth, she’s a rebel.
He’s a machine.
Abandoned in space for years, utterly alone, Abel has advanced programming that’s begun to evolve. He wants only to protect his creator, and to be free. To the people of Genesis, he’s an abomination.
Noemi and Abel are enemies in an interstellar war, forced by chance to work together as they embark on a daring journey through the stars. Their efforts would end the fighting for good, but they’re not without sacrifice. The stakes are even higher than either of them first realized, and the more time they spend together, the more they’re forced to question everything they’d been taught was true.
Standalone or Series: Book 1 in the Defy the Stars series
How did I get this book: Review Copy from the publisher
Format (e- or p-): Hardcover
Confession, gentle readers. I have been a fan of Claudia Gray’s for a long time–in fact, back in 2009 I reviewed the Hourglass books (Evernight and Stargazer), interviewed the author, and everything. I have since fallen in love with Claudia Gray’s Star Wars novels (Lost Stars and Bloodline, which made my Best of 2016 list).
And yet… I hesitated when I read the jacket copy for this book, Defy the Stars.
It sounds somewhat trite: Star crossed lovers from different worlds, a beautiful exceptional girl meets a beautiful super-human-but-not-human-except-he’s-human-in-his-heart boy. The pair fall in love, the pair struggle with their love, especially as the whole universe is set against them. Defy the Stars sounded awfully familiar at first glance–complete with a questionable tag line (“Our Worlds Belong To Us” cannot help but conjure its corollary, all your base are belong to us).
But I decided to give it a try. Because it’s Claudia Gray. And friends, I am so glad that I did, because Defy the Stars is awesome and fun and exactly what I needed to break out of my relative reading slump.
Here’s the scenario: It is the future, and Earth has (predictably) screwed itself by destroying the environment, overpopulation, and straining all natural and manmade resources to their breaking point. The settler world of Genesis–a former colony of Earth’s, a few generations removed–has declared itself independent of Earth, claiming sovereignty from Earth’s desires and wasteful ways. The planet is peaceful and respectful of its ecosystems, with different religious faiths and tolerances creating various city-states across the planet’s surface. This has in turn caused a war: Genesis refuses to open itself to its squandering parent, and Earth sees Genesis as its birthright. To fight, Genesis enlists its young, including Noemi Vidal, who lost her parents at a young age and now at eighteen flies as a fighter pilot in Genesis’s fleet. On her latest battle, Noemi stumbles across an old Earth ship at the edge of the skirmish–containing a mech unlike any other she’s seen before.
Abel, said mech, has been floating, trapped in this Earth vessel for thirty years. In this time, he has learned a few new surprising things–he can dream, though sleep isn’t required for his kind, and he feels emotions the likes of which he’s never felt before. When Noemi boards his vessel, Abel is finally freed from his prison of solitude–and, per his programming, becomes the mostly-willing tool of his new human commander. Together, Noemi and Abel will fight to find a way to destroy the Genesis gate that allows Earth to send forces to invade Genesis before it’s too late. Their journey will take them to other worlds and outposts, where they will find other rebels, and the secret to Abel’s past.
Defy the Stars is a blend of familiar storylines and tropes: human girl and non-human guy, warring worlds over resources, rebellion against an evil and wasteful empire that cares only for its own iron fisted hegemony. Heck, even the structure of the book, with alternating narratives between Noemi and Abel is a familiar setup for the YA science fiction space. Combine that with the inevitability of the two main characters falling for each other and a perilous deadline that almost certainly means one of the characters must die to save the rest of the mission, and you’ve got a veritable rehashed trope bouillabaisse.
BUT remember, this is Claudia Gray–and that means the bouillabaisse is delicious and you want to eat it ALL. Gray manages to tweak all of these tropes ever-so-slightly, subverting them or making them more subtle, which makes all the difference while reading. For example, the alternating narratives between Noemi and Abel are not the typical cringe inducing first person present tense, but third person limited–which means the narrative is less internalized angst-driven, and more even-handed in its portrayal of the transpiring events. It also means that there’s a refreshing lack of lingering stares and touches, and the cheese factor is kept at a minimum (well, until novel end). More importantly, the thematic heart of the book is about truth and faith. There’s the deeper truth of what Abel is and why he was created, but also the truths of the universe and humanity’s place in it–Noemi is so certain that her peoples’ way is the only way until she sees the realities of life on space ports, on other planets, and even on Earth itself. There is a rebellion brewing that is so much more than Genesis’s standoff against Earth–and I predict that Noemi and Abel will play a large role in bringing that rebellion to full realization in subsequent books. Gray, per usual, has a beautiful sense of scale–in this book, we see Noemi’s reality expand from her limited worldview to something much broader and more accepting as she learns of other worlds and their struggles. It’s a pretty awesome thing.
More than just the awesome worldbuilding, though, it’s the characters that are at the heart of this book. And, as familiar as both Noemi and Abel are, I loved them just the same. Noemi is driven and thinks of herself as abrasive (though she’s really not), as well a strong commander with a good sense of intuition–her emotional sensitivity and ability to quickly adapt to situations make her not only a believable and invaluable fighter, but also an awesome heroine. She doesn’t mistrust her skills, or flaunt her abilities; she simply is, and has a mission to accomplish. (In this sense she’s super Leia-ish, and I LOVE THAT SO MUCH.) Abel, meanwhile, is the character who reflects more internally, who gradually learns to assign names to his emotions, who realizes that he is defined not by just his programming, but by his own free will. I loved Abel’s self-actualization and his compassion–it’s a beautiful inversion of the regular human/superhuman YA romance and I loved it dearly for that.
Wrap all of this up in Claudia Gray’s skilled prose, complete with interesting and varied side characters, and you’ve got one hell of a book. My only criticisms here were the superficial examination of terrorism as rebellion, and of faith (religious faith and non-religious fath)–but I know there will be plenty of room for this to be examined in the next books.
In other words, I loved this book very much. Defy the Stars, you’re on my shortlist for fave books of 2017 so far.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Want more Defy The Stars? Check out the giveaway we recently hosted, which includes excerpts and other goodies.
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