Know that I never would have left the Earth if it hadn't already been doomed. . .
The generation ship Asherah coasts through space, bound for a planet its passengers have never even seen. On the eve of their arrival, sixteen-year-old botanist Terra discovers that her orderly society has fractured. Walking home one night through the long-abandoned engine rooms, she witnesses the murder of an innocent man. Now, called on by the Children of Abel, a group of rebels intent on destroying the High Council, Terra must prove her mettle--assassinate the ship's rising captain. In order to carry out her task, Terra must betray her father, deceive her teacher, and challenge everything the Council has ever taught her was true.
The rebels think that Terra has nothing left to lose. But when she falls for Silvan Rafferty, the boy that she's meant to kill, Terra learns that "doing your duty" isn't always as easy as it seems.
Sci Fi for Fans of Across the Universe
What I Liked:
Phoebe North's Starglass has been on my radar ever since I learned that the author was once a prominent blogger. I've never read that blog and don't know too much about her, but I like supporting bloggers, so I wanted to read this book. I always expect big things from bloggers who publish, because they know better than anyone what tropes to avoid, or so I assume. For the most part, that was very true in Starglass and I did very much enjoy North's debut.
The plot on a basic level is highly reminiscent of Beth Revis' Across the Universe trilogy. However, in the course of one book, North takes the plot through what took two books in that series: the dissent on the ship and the approach to the planet towards which they've been heading. This is not to say that the two are identical by any means, because they're not. In fact, I think I rather like Starglass better, both for the abbreviated time on ship and for the more interesting characters.
As I mentioned already, North does a lot of those things bloggers regularly request. There's diversity in that everyone on board the Asherah is Jewish, this being one of many ships that departed Earth as its destruction neared the Asherah only accepted those of Jewish descent. One of Terra's ancestors, a non-practicing Jew and a lesbian (squee!) found a place on the ship. There are other gay characters as well, which is awesome, even if society does not approve, which is less awesome.
Another fantastic thing is how many of the authority figures on the Asherah are female. Women and men are in equal standing here. The current leader of the guard is an imposing female by the name of Captain Wolff. When the time comes for marrying (16 - if you have not chosen by 18, a mate will be chosen for you), girls can ask for a boy's hand in marriage just as the boys may ask. Plus, women don't have to bear the two mandated children (one male, one female), as they are hatched from eggs in a disturbing and haunting process.
As with Revis' series, the plot consists largely of a combined mystery and rebellion. North does a good job with it, and did surprise me with one of the twists there at the end. On the Asherah, it's really hard to know who to trust, and that's conveyed beautifully. The pace does move somewhat slow, without much action, but I really enjoyed the writing so I didn't mind.
What Left Me Wanting More:
So far as the characters go, they don't quite have the depth I would have wished for, but they are interesting. Terra's narration is intelligent, but lacks the scientific know-how to get too much into the nitty gritty science fiction details, but that worked out pretty well. For most of the book, Terra has a tendency to go along with what others want of her, even if she's not particularly happy with it. By the end, she's finally obtaining some agency of her own, perhaps due to the example of Mara Stone, to whom she's apprenticed, or to the craziness going down on board the Asherah.
My only other concern is the romance. Most of what went down with that in Starglass was walking the border of discomfiting. For example, I find her treatment of her first suitor rather hateful, but, then again, he did lie to her, so I suppose it's forgivable as long as she learns from the experience, which I think she has. Terra's second suitor also upsets me, because of what that did to her friend, whom she envies for being so pretty. Hopefully, the impending love interest will lay my concerns to rest, but things could really go either way at this point.
The Final Verdict:
The ending leaves me very ready for book two, though Starglass does come to a nice ending of the main plot arc. Phoebe North's debut is a fun science fiction novel on the lighter side, and I look forward to her career; I expect good things!
Echoes of Across the Universe
Um, wow! When I started it, I thought it will be like Across the Universe – in fact, while reading it too, you feel the ghost of AtU – it has most of the tropes, like big spaceship floating to colonize a planet, closed community, strict laws, dissent among people, and all that conspiracy vibe. Thing is, since it follows Terra’s journey during the six months prior to landing, it has a lot of shift in plot. First, she is having a bad life at her house – her alcoholic widowed father expects her to meet his expectations of the perfect daughter, then when she does and gets a vocation she doesn’t really care about, she is being pushed to marry. When she witnesses a murder and comes in the sphere of the rebelllion’s plans, she joins them in the hope of finding a place to belong. But even there, she doesn’t get the freedom she craves. Entrapment is a big plot device in the story – with each character feeling bound by the rigid laws of the ship.
The political and cultural structure of the ship is largely secular but their customs are kind of religious. Even though it is sci-fi, the focus is more on survival and sustainability, which means the scientific progress is more biological than technology based. Religious guidelines define the rules, but the system is more of a military rule. The underlying plot of the rebellion is juxtaposed against by Terra being mostly a reluctant pawn in their plans. She thinks picking sides would help her find acceptance, but in the end you know that not everyone is full of good intentions or bad. It is a slow build-up of the lies and the plotting that leads to a final power grab, something that wasn’t for the best interest of the ship, especially when they have bigger problems at their door. Overall, the atmosphere of the book was grim, and a bit sad when it came to how Terra tries to find a solution for her loneliness. What seems to be a love triangle isn’t, since both the guys were unsuitable for her. And with that ending, I would love to see what happens in the next book, with her as well as with the ship. Plus, aliens!! Woo! (Avatar feels at that one)
Jews in space
Starglass was a challenging book for me. I usually stay away from books featuring religion and old-fashioned way of thinking about topics such as marriage, sex and race equality and freedom to be and love whoever you want. Since I'm one of those people who doesn't like being told what to do so it was difficult to hold my tongue when some of the characters were acting like primitive old bats. I'm well aware of the fact that most dystopian novels talk about those things but it bothers me more when there's a lot of religious talk thrown in there because my country has gone through a war almost 20 years ago and so many people still think they're better than others.
Over a year ago I bought Across the Universe by Beth Revis mostly because of the beautiful cover and because I was curious. You see, I'm not a huge fan of outer space adventure but I wanted to give it a try. You never know what's good until you try it, right? Well, I didn't like it and it's still sitting on my nightstand, unfinished.
I'm glad I took a risk and read Starglass. It's a story about Tarra, who's traveling in a spaceship to another planet after asteriods hit the Earth. Her father drinks after her mother died of cancer and her brother moves when he gets married which leaves Tarra alone with a drunk father. She gets her assigned job after she turns 16. She also has 2 years to find a husband or the Council will pick one for her.
There are so many things I liked about this novel. Women don't have to give birth any longer. Every couple gets to have two artificial eggs/wombs which takes all the work while both parents get to do their assigned jobs. Men are being sterilized when they get circumcised. A lot of people weren't what seem to be and I was surprised a couple of times when secrets were being revealed. Terra also had vivid dreams about someone in the woods. I could almost picture myself being there with them. Not in a pervy way.
Can't wait to find out what happens in the sequel! Why do I have to wait a full year till I found out more about the mysterious dream guy?
Coming of Age in Outer Space
There's not enough deep space science fiction in YA, and I did not realize that I was missing it until I read Starglass by Phoebe North. There are others out there similar to it, namely Across the Universe by Beth Revis, but Starglass had a story all its own. Phoebe North spins the Jewish diaspora and makes it a sort of human diaspora in the world-building of the novel. I thought of that comparison because Asherah, the spaceship in the novel, exists to preserve Jewish culture. Yes, it's got a lot of religious influences in the story, but the world-building was unique and intriguing, so it all works. Oh, and there is this twist at the end that I didn't see coming. I love when those things hit me unexpectedly.
Terra was the main character in the novel, and I instantly connected with her because I felt sorry for her. Starglass starts out with her mother's funeral. This event lays the seeds for everything that happens to her three years down the road. It leaves her feeling very isolated because her family is no longer one with four people: father, mother, son, daughter. (That's how ALL families are made up on the ship.) When the story picks back up when she's fifteen, her dad is a verbally abusive jerk, her brother is married to an alright girl of a higher station, and she is waiting to find out what her job on the ship will be. Terra is hoping for a job as an artist, but she ends up in botany with a woman who did not want a tahmid (apprentice). She also has a lot of weird dreams about her bashert (soulmate) that not even BEGIN to make any sense until the end of the novel. The long and short of it is that she's a strong girl who makes it through a crappy three years, loyal to her friends and family, tries to do the right thing even when it's hard, and never stops questioning what she is doing or why. The last part has a lot to do with the murder she witnesses, but I don't want to spoil anything. Let's just say that things begin to spiral after that.
In case it hasn't come across clearly, I loved Starglass . However, there were a few things that I did not quite understand in the book. The letters to Terra, the daughter of one of the Earth-born passengers on the ship, throughout the novel helped with the suspense, but they threw me off at times. The current Terra's dreams were definitely confusing, and it was not until maybe 95% into the book that I saw the purpose in them at all. There is a social ladder that is a borderline caste system on the ship, but the job-based rungs of that ladder were vague. Some people married outside of their job level, but others acted like it was forbidden. *scratches head* These things did not detract much from my enjoyment of Terra's story, and the version of Starglass that I read was an ARC, so maybe it's changed.
All in all, Starglass was a mystery about a society shot into space and where it went wrong, and a coming of age story for Terra, who is faced with the constant struggle of doing what she believes to be the right thing. The religious aspects of the story sets it apart from other science fiction novels that I have read. Starbreak , book two, is due next year, and I am anxiously awaiting it.
- 4/5 Stars -
To satisfy FTC guidelines, I am disclosing that I received the book for reviewing purposes as a part of Itching for Books Blog Tours in exchange for an honest review. The advance digital copy was provided to the tour by the publisher, which has in no way affected the outcome. All opinions expressed are rambling, honest, and completely my own.