Lucky lives a relatively normal life on a remote moon of the planet Aries One, safe from the turmoil and devastation of the interstellar war between Humans and Aliens. Lucky has seen images of the horned, cloven-hooved Aliens before, but he’s never seen one up close. Then one night, he dreams that the stars are singing to him—and wakes to evidence suggesting that he is not so normal after all. When Lucky’s mother sacrifices herself to help him escape an elite Human military force called the Shadow Guards, he must rely on the Alien crew of a ramshackle starship, where he finds that humanity’s deadly enemies seem surprisingly Human up close. In fact, they may be more Human than Lucky himself, who has a dangerous power that could change the course of the war and the fate of the galaxy—if he can learn how to use it. Star Wars fans seeking another saga to love need look no further than this epic middle-grade adventure from SF Said, illustrated by Dave McKean with remarkable white-on-black spacescapes.
The story is told in past-tense third-person limited from the perspective of "Lucky," a young boy who lives alone with his mother on a human colony in some indeterminate distant-future reality. The humans are at war with an alien species known as the Axxa--for which Lucky holds a fearful disdain and only the vaguest understanding. But as it turns out, Lucky may not be entirely human himself. His mother has been keeping secrets from him that Lucky's own body is betraying. The stars themselves are in danger of being snuffed out, and Lucky may be the key to saving the entire galaxy.
What I Liked:
The black and white illustration work is stunning and ethereal--perfectly capturing both Lucky's vast astral journeying as well as his varying emotional states. I appreciated Dave McKean's work in THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, but here he's really outdone himself. Somewhere around 1/4th of this book's pages are in some way enhanced by his unique blend of organic and geometric elements. Fractals, Moire patterns, and starscapes... oh my!
Along with many of the illustrations, the segments describing Lucky's Astro/Astral-projection travel between (and interaction with) the stars were easily the brightest highlight. Here the simple prose became more vivid and lyrical.
The most standout characters in this story may arguably be the "needles" that Bixa wore in her hair. We aren't given much by way of explanation for them, aside from the understanding that they are a form of weapon to her. But their reflective response to her emotions in color and behavior was a consistent and enriching detail worth looking forward to.
What Didn't Work For Me:
-Not knowing Lucky's age was continually disorienting. As a result, I had to guess and gauge based on his internal thoughts, vocabulary, and dependency level--which I would place around that of a 10-year-old--an immature 12-year-old at the very oldest. We are told he thinks the alien girl, Bixa, is his age... but he doesn't seem to know anything about her people's physiology or lifespan, so the comparison wasn't particularly effective. Regardless of his age, he comes off as a pretty passive and bland character. There was some growth in him by the end, but not enough to forge the degree of connectivity this reader prefers.
-Regretfully, the worldbuilding left a lot to be desired. Having 12 star systems based on the 12 astrological signs was an interesting element in concept, but the "twist" applied to it toward the end negates a lot of the originality. Alien names like "Mystica" and "Quicksilver" reinforced a more fantasy feel, as did a lack of emphasis on anything remotely scientific. And aside from the insult "moonbrain" and weapons like "sensory dazzler," there's little by way of adaptive slang or terminology. A few of the oddly non-alien non-futuristic colloquialisms the Axxa use (even when they don't know a human is around) include:
*"Take the bull by the horns."
*"How in heaven's name...?"
*"...the best seat in the house."
-The prose is serviceable, but without being memorable. Unremarkable portions are sometimes overwritten, and the cryptic messages (presumably from the stars) at the beginning of each chapter end up more ponderous than foreboding. There's a general poverty of description--both in physical (i.e. no idea what Lucky's mother looks like) and in terms of the numerous space-based locations. As a result, much of what is being talked about is difficult to picture.
-A subversive anti-parent sentiment seems to persist throughout, from the negligence and deception of Lucky's mother to the "twist", to actual quotes from endeared characters: "No father can tell him what to do. It is not a parent that he needs, but that which is already inside him."
-The book contains some entry-level curse words, and there is a scene where the characters are forced to strip for a travel search and the female love interest makes an admiring comment regarding Lucky's naked posterior. (How inappropriate this is depends somewhat on the character's ages, but as we aren't told their ages, and as Lucky's thought process gives the impression of a child no older than 12, I leave this to individual parents to gauge.)
-At the risk of giving "spoilers" here, I wanted to alert parents and readers that this book has evidently jumped on the recent bandwagon of re-branding Satan (yes, literally The Devil) to make him appear sympathetic--heroic, even. (Never mind that it's also a bizarre and incongruent insertion that made a shoehorn fit into the rest of the sci-fi and astrological theme of the book at large.)
"But he is Lucifer!" ...
"And you know what that name means?" ... "It means "Bringer of Light.' That's all. Lucifer wasn't just the Devil. He was also called the Morningstar: the brightest star. And in all the legends, one thing shines through. Lucifer was stubborn! He stood for free will and choice. So even if *** is Lucifer, I reckon he can do whatever he wants with his power. He's the only one who can decide..."