THESE BROKEN STARS
Author: Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner
Genre: Young Adult Romance/Sci-Fi
Edition & Publisher: Australian Paperback; Allen & Unwin
I wasn’t sure I was going to find much to enjoy in These Broken Stars. Not because I’d read any negative reviews (I went into this one completely blind of reader and critic reactions), but because I’m generally terrified of all things space and it’s been a very long time since I read a book with a romantic focus. But I’ve been trying to open myself up to new genres and I’ve been ogling that cover for a while now.
And in this case, trying something new absolutely paid off. I was hooked from page one and didn’t put the book down until page three hundred and seventy-four at 2:13AM the next morning. I haven’t done that with a book since the wonderful Zac & Mia back in February.
So what’s it about?
The story begins on the Icarus, the
unsinkable uncrashable luxury spaceliner ferrying 50,000 souls across the universe. Major Tarver Merendsen, a young, spunky soldier allowed out of steerage the lower decks thanks to his newly won war hero status meets the sparky Lilac in an excruciatingly boring upper class saloon and flirts with her, not realising she’s the daughter of the richest and most powerful CEO in the universe. Despite her attraction to him, she humiliates him to keep him at a distance and protect him from the wrath of her father. But they find each other – of course – when disaster strikes and the Icarus is yanked from hypserspace, sending it crashing into a nearby planet. Making their way to an escape pod, they find themselves alone on an unfamiliar planet and must work together to survive until Lilac’s father’s fleet can locate and rescue them.
But the longer they spend on the planet, the clearer it becomes that there’s no help coming. And though there are no other living humans on the planet, there is something. Voices haunt Lilac, urging her on. But to what?
While These Broken Stars is first and foremost a love story, the narrative is driven by the mystery of the abandoned planet and their quest first for rescue, then survival. The story is told in first person present tense, alternating between the two characters. Each chapter is punctuated by an excerpt from Tarver’s interrogation in the unspecified future with an unspecified person, post-rescue, where he frequently contradicts what we see in the chapters. It’s a risky format, but Tarver and Lilac have clear character voices, so I never found myself having to flick back and check the name at the top of the chapter (sorry, Allegiant) and the interrogation excerpts keep the tension alive even in the more docile chapters. Tarver never gives any indication of whether Lilac survives with him.
The characters and their situations aren’t exactly original. Rich girl meets poor boy, poor boy rescues rich girl, her family objects to poor boy, they fall in love anyway. But similarities to Titanic aside, there’s a nice sense of reality and heart to both Lilac and Tarver. They’re likeable and interesting, and unlike some romantic set-ups, are interested in each other for slightly more than their (above average, of course) looks.
Tarver is a soldier with poetry in his heart and unresolved feelings about the older brother he idolised – a soldier, like him, and killed in action. It’s never really specified what elevated him to war hero status (apparently it’s being released as an ebook novella/short story this year) but we’re often shown him applying his combat and survival training, and we see his abilities as a leader in the best sense of the word. He’s kind, patient, and able to put personal feelings aside to motivate and encourage others. He’s not even petty, perfectly able to acknowledge Lilac’s contributions to their survival while he’s still smarting from her public rebuke – if only to himself. He has flaws, of course, unable to believe in what he can’t see, slipping too easily into soldier mode at the expense of his emotions, stubborn and uncompromising. But he respects women, which is always nice to see, and though he’s extremely attracted to Lilac at face value, he really falls for her when she defends a poor man from the first class guards, and finds himself more attracted to her by her actions during their time together. And normally I’d roll my eyes at the secret love of poetry thing, but here it’s pretty dreamy.
Lilac LaRoux is an interesting take on the snotty rich girl trope. While Lilac can and does play the role of zillionaire socialite perfectly, she’s more than just a snub-nosed (bless non perfect noses) pretty face. Her father might practically run the known universe (ah, capitalism), at the end of the day he’s an engineer, and between him and the building sites she’s spent a good portion of her childhood in, she’s picked up a lot of electrical and mechanical know-how. Tarver might save her from tumbling off a balcony, but Lilac is the one who knows how to hot-wire the malfunctioning escape pod and disengage it from the Icarus before it can take them to their deaths. And despite being marooned in heels and a ball gown, Lilac shows enormous fortitude. Her stubborn, sparky exterior hides a lonely girl who has been wounded before by emotional attachments, but as she lets her guard down she’s able to show how intelligent, brave and capable she can really be. Even at her most ‘annoying,’ I found Lilac warm, funny and likeable.
I don’t know how Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner managed a book this cohesive when they don’t even live on the same side of the planet, but their prose is clear and evocative, painting beautiful imagery without labouring the point. The dialogue wasn’t painful, the side characters were mostly interesting. The only real complaint about the book I can think of is that Lilac’s humiliation of Tarver before the crash didn’t seem public or humiliating enough to provoke the extreme level of dislike from Tarver afterwards (he’s such a whiny sook about it for a few chapters I couldn’t even feel sorry for him). I wish it had been in front of another military official, or even a paparazzo to really escalate it from slightly bruised ego (would he really care that two girls he didn’t know giggled at him?) to an actual professional and personal injury. A few chapters near the end are also a bit weird and complicated, but this isn’t an official complaint – it was very late when I read them and I’m willing to allow that my brain was a bit fried.
But that aside, I really loved These Broken Stars, and I’m even more excited to find out that The Starbound Trilogy won’t follow Tarver and Lilac (as much as I like both of them) but two more couples in different situations across the galaxy. Kaufman and Spooner have introduced us to an interesting galaxy, setting up a key conflict (there’s a war on!) and villain (sorry, no spoilers!), and now they’re going to let us explore it. Next up, This Shattered World (December 2014), following a rebel and a soldier on opposite sides of the conflict.
My score: 4.5/5
I admit to being a fairly big prude about shagging in my media, but this is perfect level lovin’ for me.
What kind of idiot is deep into Greek mythology and calls their biggest spaceship the Icarus? Was Titanic II already taken?
I didn’t understand a single word of the science stuff, but I appreciate that it’s there. I have no idea if any of it checks out, but kudos if so.
If I’d taken a shot every time Tarver or Lilac gazed at something I would be in hospital. Or at least chained to the toilet.
I don’t even cosplay and I want to dress up as Lilac. Someone get me a green dress and a portable wind machine.
Lady soldiers! Lady bodyguards! Nobody making a big deal of it! Excited for the possibilities of this in future books, especially since our female protag in This Shattered World is a soldier.