Series: Constellation #1
Published by Allen & Unwin on April 4th 2017
Source: Publisher, Netgalley
Genres: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Romance, Diversity
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She’s a soldier.
Noemi Vidal is seventeen years old and sworn to protect her planet, Genesis. She’s willing to risk anything—including her own life. To their enemies on Earth, she’s a rebel.
He’s a machine.
Abandoned in space for years, utterly alone, Abel has advanced programming that’s begun to evolve. He wants only to protect his creator, and to be free. To the people of Genesis, he’s an abomination.
Noemi and Abel are enemies in an interstellar war, forced by chance to work together as they embark on a daring journey through the stars. Their efforts would end the fighting for good, but they’re not without sacrifice. The stakes are even higher than either of them first realized, and the more time they spend together, the more they’re forced to question everything they’d been taught was true.
At first, I was actually quite hesitant to read this one. I didn’t have the best experience with Claudia Gray’s previous Firebird Trilogy, but I couldn’t resist an adventure and romance set in space. I’m extremely glad I picked it up in the end though, because Gray writes extremely complex characters in a star-filled world and casts a delightful exploration of humanity. She discusses what exactly makes us human in a time where mechs and robots help us do our daily tasks. I couldn’t help but fall in love with each of the characters as they found their own purpose and role in their life and followed their development from beginning to end.
Set in an indeterminable future, Defy the Stars reads in present-tense between the limited third person point of views of Abel, the Model A mech that Earth citizen Burton Mansfield created, and Noemi, a Genesis soldier who found him abandoned in a ship on the warzone of her planet’s surrounding space. There is a glorious transition from enemies to two soldiers who start trusting each other, and eventually perhaps more than that. The emotional growth between Abel and Noemi’s relationship was extremely well-paced and so heartwarming to read about. I absolutely love their banter and especially the way Gray explores Abel’s curious transition from a machine to something… or someone more.
Gray writes this brilliant world with a balance of technological processes that don’t become too winded, and descriptive planets that perhaps reflect situations of the Earth currently. Genesis is a planet that seceded from Earth and its other planets, choosing independence over being governed by another planet. Noemi is a strict soldier raised as an orphan in her planet, but her parents’ heritage is from Chile in Earth. In twenty days, she’s bound to serve the army and participate in the Masada Run, a suicidal technique where soldiers sacrifice their life to destabilize the gate that shield the wormhole which connects the various planets, buying them time to win against the independence war with Earth. The other planets are diverse in both terrain and population, catering to different classes of human beings. However, only in the Earth-owned planets do mechs exist: machines in the guise of humans that can do daily functions.
Abel is such a mech, and when Noemi finds him, it is far from any romance that one of the versions of the star-crossed cover expresses. There is insta-hate and insta-wariness, and as Abel’s programming commands him to follow Noemi’s orders, a bigger mission comes out of her loyalty and devotion to her planet. This mission will allow them to traverse through the galaxy, stopping on the planets and gaining new friends and allies – as well as enemies – as the characters question the faith and loyalties that they were raised (or programmed) with. Additionally, Abel’s programming soon evolves beyond a normal mech as he finds his own (rather snarky) personality and feelings.
‘You broke free, Abel. Your soul is bigger than your programming.’
The dialogue takes the cake in discovering this part of his character. Already from the beginning, we see Abel’s snarkiness creep in, no matter how neutral his tone or actions may be. Abel has this superiority complex for being the most advanced mech to ever been made (with great reason as well), and he can’t help but state this in subtle ways with the enemy soldier that commands his every wish now. Noemi can definitely hold her own, however, as her rapier wit and cutting responses will leave readers grinning at their exchanges. From this kind of dialogue progresses a more trusted understanding of the other, as well as trust in the actions of the other, and from there perhaps something more for each of the characters. Honestly, the steady (and rather slight) progression in their relationship made me want to squeal at the smallest glance, the most distracted thoughts. And- omg, don’t even get me started with the references to the movie Casablanca, because I’m going to have to clutch my heart.
‘I’ve begun to understand how you think and what you want. That means I can see through your eyes, too, instead of on my own, and it’s as if the entire universe expanded, grew larger and more beautiful.’ He pauses. ‘You even make me think in metaphors.’
The amalgam of secondary characters only enhance this story, as we get to see the questionably loving paternal attitude Burton Mansfield has toward his creation, Abel, Vagabonds that live in ships and seek honest work in planets, extremely intelligent and playful scientists, and curious rebels that have their own grievances with Earth. Noemi and Abel’s interactions with each of these characters were so entertaining to see as it all added to a component of their characters – for Noemi, the interaction between people outside of her planet Genesis, and for Abel, the increasing amount of feeling he gets from each new friend, each new ally. Gray discusses the meaning of being human between the dynamic political situation and the actions that arise from it, making Noemi wonder what constitutes as being human, and seeing such life reflected through a man-made machine.
With the thrilling adventure and plots set up like Starflight by Melissa Landers, as well as an immersive world with various planets and people like Stitching Snow by RC Lewis, Defy the Stars will be another YA scifi that will defy your expectations for a thought-provoking space adventure. Abel and Noemi are three-dimensional characters that readers will have no problem connecting with, even as one battles between programming and will, and the other seeks faith in a path she cannot foresee. I’m so happy this is a series and not a stand-alone, because the ending is rather conclusive, but it leaves a lot of strings hanging, thus making excellent set-up for more stories to tell after this one. Let’s just say that I thought about this book long after I read the last page, and it will be another stand-out science fiction read for me for this year.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Thank you Netgalley and Little Brown Books for the review copy!
Thank you Allen & Unwin for the review copy!
Defy the Stars will be available in Australian bookstores for $19.99 AUD and American bookstores for $17.99 USD.