Leonie Kolburg, or Leo, is a princess of a nearly defunct ship. She hates her title. Because of it, she lost the one person that made her feel normal. The title is little more than a status symbol anyways. Leo’s family, along with many others, are near destitute. Years in space with no form of income and lots of expenses is finally taking its toll. With the Valg Season upon them, Leo’s father is forcing her to marry, not for love but money. She must find a wealthy husband to secure her family’s financial freedom. Otherwise their ship (and titles) will be gone.
While attending the Valg Season, Leo talks her father into staying in the Royal chambers aboard the Scandinavian, the ship hosting this year and her mother’s home ship. In doing this, they can rent out their ship and make a little money. What Leo doesn’t count on is her former fiance and his new friends renting it. Elliot is now a wealthy, successful captain of a whiskey ship, and like Leo, is entering the Valg Season. But Elliot’s motives aren’t entirely pure.
What is the Valg Season? It’s like a coming out party (think Victorian England) for society. The bloodlines on the ships are running a little too thin. If you don’t want to marry a cousin or other relative, you enter the Valg Season which lasts a few weeks. Glittering balls, speed dating, dinners and dancing, among many other events fill up the weeks so the eligible candidates have a chance to mingle, meet and choose a spouse.
I’ll be honest, this aspect of the book while seeming to be the main plot (at least from the blurb) actually doesn’t take up as much as one would think. I expected more from it and had hoped to learn more about why they’re in space. In truth, it could have been set on Earth or another planet and the storyline not changed. The plot really focuses on the romance and the mystery surrounding Elliot’s return.
While I really liked Leo, the other characters fell flat for me, even Elliot. There were many times I had to check to see who Leo was interacting with because there was no depth. There is however plenty of representation from race to sexuality. It was as if the author had a list she could that she was checking off….lesbian check, asian check, mocha skin color check. Maybe it was just me, but it felt off and forced, and honestly the characters could have been any skin color or sexual orientation and it wouldn’t have impacted their story.
Overall I’m torn. I really enjoyed some aspects of The Stars We Steal. I loved Leo, her tenacity and forward thinking (because for this to be set so many years in the future, I felt as if I’d stepped back in time). I enjoyed how Donne weaved her own tale through Austen’s Persuasion. There is enough of the original story that it made me smile. However, if like me you are looking for a space opera, or at least a science fiction, this isn’t it. Yes, they are on a ship in space, but that’s the extent of it. The Stars We Steal is a unique take on social status and inequality set in the beautiful expanse of space. If you enjoy light science fiction with a little romance, I recommend it.