Shipwrecked... IN SPACE
I’ll admit I was a bit hesitant to pick this one up. First of all, it sounded a bit like Titanic: In Space!, (and to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t a fan of how the movie ended. *sniffle*) Secondly, Illuminae was my first exposure to Amie Kaufman’s work (albeit in a different co-author form), and its recycled mishmash of sci-fi tropes sadly didn’t do anything for me. But several friends have spoken well of These Broken Stars, so I finally gave it a go.
I’m glad I did.
Told in alternating first-person from the POVs of Tarver and Lilac, the story gives the account of an unlikely pair of starship crash survivors. Lilac’s version is straightforward recall, while Tarver proves more of an unreliable narrator—as he is evidently in the midst of a debriefing, which gradually begins to sound more and more like an interrogation. The style of retelling is particularly effective in that we can be assured of Tarver’s survival and eventual rescue from the get-go… but not of Lilac’s. And there is the increasingly ominous sense that “rescue” is a loose term.
While this book does belong in the sci-fi genre, readers should go into it expecting more of a survival story with heavy romantic elements and a dose of mystery. What we do get of the worldbuilding is sensible and well-structured, but the emphasis is on the relational and personal growth obtained over the course of the hero and heroine’s trek across an enigmatic and seemingly uninhabited planet. Disgruntled far-flung colonies, greedy/unethical corporations, recycled Victorian fashion sense, starships named from ironic Greek mythology… Nothing particularly original going on, but for what it is, it's well executed.
I loved Tarver like I rarely love a protagonist male. He was believable from the start—believably masculine in thought and action, and believably a soldier in discipline and mindset. We’re given enough background not only to buy his exceptionally young “war hero” status (a fluke of mere survival, by his account), but to also accept why he entered military service in the first place (in misguided honor of his older brother.) He’s exceedingly mature, competent, sarcastic, and unassumingly noble. While I wish readers were privileged to more of the poet side of this warrior, he still came across as satisfyingly complex.
Lilac, on the other hand, was a harder sell. You get in the beginning that she’s more than just a pampered rich girl, living under the oppressive shadow of her nearly all-powerful father. But once the story shifts to the crash-landing and the survival/journey theme that makes up the vast majority of the plot, she persists in her wildly impractical ways. (i.e. she stubbornly continues wearing her high-heeled shoes on their day-long hikes through rough terrain until foot injury and infection risk set in, while also insisting on wearing a BALL GOWN even after a suitable jumpsuit alternative is found.) I was patient with her up until this point, where her pride overruled the basics of common sense and pragmatism.
Lilac does eventually wise up. But this reader had largely given up on liking her by that point, and so the romance was more of a biological inevitability than something I could staunchly root for. (Although I very much appreciated the slow-burn progression. Always nice to see a YA where insta-attraction does not even remotely equate to insta-“love.”)
I did get pulled out of the story a bit toward the end—which may be the result of an editing oversight. As it’s something of a spoiler, I’m designating it clearly. (view spoiler on Goodreads) Granted, I haven’t seen this bother any other reviewers as of yet. So perhaps it is not as glaring an oversight as my mind registered it.
Content Note: Minimal harsh language, within a reasonable context. There is sex, though not graphically described. (But despite the direness of the circumstances, there’s no mention or concern for contraceptive use.)
A few qualms aside, I enjoyed the experience. Looking forward to picking up the next book in the series. If sci-fi tends to intimidate you, I’d encourage giving this one a try.