Saturday, April 5, 2014

Reading Notes: These Broken Stars

This review covers the 5th and final book of my commitment to tread and review the YA nominee list for the Australian speculative fiction awards - the Aurealis Awards. I beat the prize announcement for once! So this review also contains my pick for the winner, and my prediction as to what will actually win.

What an interesting mix this YA list has turned out to be. Two really good strong-girl magic-based fantasies; two good, if depressing, boy-against-the-deteriorating-world post-apocalypse dystopias; and this surprising little gem - a really satisfying survival-journey narrative set on a strange and frightening planet.

I'll be honest - based on its blurb, this one didn't overly grab me. The central device (boy from wrong side of the tracks meets poor little rich girl, initial conflict and misunderstanding, growing attraction, you join the dots) is extremely well-worn. I may be one of the least romantic readers in existence - indeed, romance is the only main genre that I never read at all - so this trope does not float my boat if that's all the story has to offer. And in the set-up, I thought Tarver (our young military hero) and Lilac (our daughter-of-the-richest-most-sinister-man-in-the-universe) were not much more than creditable cookie-cutter exemplars of the device. I was prepared, in fact, to dismiss this book as a bit of fluff, and not to my taste.

What turned me around was the clever, deft and intriguing way that the authors unfolded the co-plot, which is a mystery / thriller / truly sci fi based adventure. It has conspiracy, aliens, ghosts (or does it?), energy sources, future tech, and mind games, all of which I approve heartily. It had nice little resonances of some truly great sci fi, including what I think, but am not completely sure, was a smoothly inserted homage to Serenity. (If so, double gold star for you, writers :-) It was complex enough without being bewildering, and instead of trying for gotchas, it contented itself with good quality story development, of which I also approve as a narrative choice.

This secondary plot was much more original than the primary romance storyline, and it was through the exploration of it that both Tarver and Lilac rounded out as characters and became relatable and three-dimensional human beings. Lilac's journey in particular in the last quarter of the book felt visceral and real in a way that the romance didn't, quite, to me. I believed in her struggle and her pain and yes, her attachment to Tarver, while remaining sceptical of the Grand Passion bit.

This is, apparently, the first book in a trilogy; I enjoyed this one enough to have a squizz at number two when it comes out, although I wouldn't describe it as a must-read.


So, having read all five of the YA nominees, I think the prize will probably go to either The Sky So Heavy or These Broken Stars, not because I think they are the best or most original of the nominees, but because they both have a red hot go at Big Themes, and speculative fiction awards, more than most, love the big themes.

If I was awarding the prize, though, I'd give it to Fairytales for Wilde Girls. I think it the most interesting, complex and fully achieved book on the list, and the one that's likeliest to stand the test of time.

We shall see!

UPDATE: Wow, I did better than normal! The prize was a tie between These Broken Stars and Fairytales for Wilde Girls. Warm congrats to all three authors.


  1. Thanks for the review Kathy. I have added these to my list to check out for my teenagers.

  2. Cheers! Clearly, you're psychic.