I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. Thank you to Titan Books for the Advance Reader Copy. There are no spoilers in this review.
Stars and Bones by Gareth L. Powell (author of the award-winning Embers of War) is an exciting and fast-paced space opera about humanity escaping a menacing force that turns out to be not what you think.
What is the novel about?
Seventy-five years from today, the human race has been cast from a dying Earth to wander the stars in a vast fleet of arks—each shaped by its inhabitants into a diverse and fascinating new environment, with its own rules and eccentricities.
When her sister disappears while responding to a mysterious alien distress call, Eryn insists on being part of the crew sent to look for her. What she discovers on Candidate-623 is both terrifying and deadly. When the threat follows her back to the fleet and people start dying, she is tasked with seeking out a legendary recluse who may just hold the key to humanity’s survival.
While not exactly post-apocalyptic (in that we don’t spend any time on destroyed earth), Stars and Bones is an “abandoned earth” book. There are also a few scenes dealing with the lead-up to nuclear war that I think fans of the post-apocalyptic genre will appreciate. I wouldn’t call this a post-apocalyptic book, more space opera with post-apocalyptic elements, but there are some cool chapters dealing with bunkers and prepping, so I still think it was worth posting here!
I enjoyed the novel! It was very easy to read, moves at a quick pace, everything is easy to picture and envision, and I liked the small twist at the end with the antagonist. There are elements of modern and classic sci-fi, including a touch of horror – the novel has generational ships, space travel, an apocalypse (kind of), sapient AI, and aliens, amongst other things. It reminded me of a lot of different sci-fi movies/books but it didn’t feel like a mish-mash of allusions roped together. It exists in its own world.
It was fun and would make a cool movie.
Yet, the novel moves too fast at times and I sometimes had to stop myself from trying to figure out whether something was plausible. For example, when extracting all the humans from Earth, what about those Indigenous tribes in the Amazon that rarely see other humans, or Mennonites/the Amish who reject technology – were they taken from everything they know and thrust into these spaceships? The novel touches on “dissenters,” those who don’t like being on the Arc ships, but this poignant idea didn’t get enough focus.
I really liked what the nefarious entity ended up being, but the ending was a little too “cerebral” for me (that trope just isn’t one of my favourites – some readers might love that scene). I also thought the “solution” to the problem had a bit of a deus ex machina aspect. I don’t mind a bit of deus ex, to be honest, but this one was a bit much and kind of too obvious in its revelation.
And while I did find the story entertaining, it’s a bit forgettable. The characters aren’t very deep and while their motivations are clear, I can’t say I found them overly interesting. Some characters had promise, like Tessa with her dissension views, but were only given one chapter for their point of view and others, like the cop, felt unnecessary. It also seems like Eyrn, despite only being a pilot, is given a lot of control and responsibility for the fate of humanity when there are supercomputer AIs who are charged with protecting the human population that could make more informed choices. The story simply doesn’t take a breath to delve deep into the characters, whether by playing them off one another or letting them ruminate, so while they aren’t flat, they could have used some more layering. For example, I wasn’t sure why Eryn is hesitant to engage in a relationship with one of the other characters, and the depth of certain characters’ reactions to others’ deaths wasn’t very hard-hitting.
Then again, this is a very quick, action-driven story. It’s like a movie versus a series; we sometimes have to remember that we’re spoiled now with the media we get – due to series, we’re given such depth to every character that when we get a standalone or short book, we forget that we can’t possibly get that without losing the pace of the novel.
As such, the book entertained me, I enjoyed the twist at the end, there’s nothing distressing in it really, and it was fun. If you’re looking for a fast, fun, space opera with an interesting take on aliens, this will definitely hit the mark.