These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner
Series: Starbound, #1
Published: 2013, Disney Hyperion
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
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It’s not difficult to see the way he looks at me, even though he tries now to hide his impatience and annoyance. How quickly one’s delusions come crashing down–the soldiers aren’t watching is society folk, wishing they could touch us. They’re laughing at us in our bright dresses and parasols, our immaculately re-created drawing rooms and parlors. And what was funny in the sparkling world of the Icarus is simply pathetically ridiculous down here, in the kind of world they live in day to day. I’m not even close to the type of girl he’d want, just as I’ve been signaling at every opportunity that he’s the last man in the galaxy I’d want to touch.
The only difference is that I was wrong.
The only difference is that I was wrong.
For both Lilac LeRoux, a socialite and heiress to the LaRoux Industries empire, and Tarver Merendsen, a lower-class young war hero, the journey aboard the luxury spaceliner Icarus is just a means to an end. They come into contact with one another a few times briefly but think nothing of it until they meet again in the worst possible circumstances: something has caused the Icarus to be yanked out of hyperspace. Lilac and Tarver find themselves alone together on an escape pod and crash land on a nearby planet. Shortly afterwards, the two of them witness the spectacularly horrifying descent of the Icarus.
Neither Lilac or Tarver is particularly fond of their current company, or of being stranded on this terraformed planet that for some reason seems to lack any civilization. And so the two of them begin the long trek across the planet to reach the wreckage of the Icarus and, hopefully, rescue ships.
Even with all the hype surrounding this book, These Broken Stars exceeded my expectations. It’s a work of science fiction that is not overly simplistic or overly complicated in its worldbuilding and scientific aspects. It’s a convincingly engaging survival story. It’s a romance that transcends social and personal boundaries. The writing is not bad, but it’s nothing noteworthy. But that doesn’t even matter here because it’s a well written story in general. But of course I’ll go into a bit more detail than that.
These Broken Stars switches between protagonist Lilac and Tarver’s perspectives, and I thought that the dual narration made a lot of sense within the context of this story. In many ways, Lilac and Tarver have the stereotypical rich girl and poor boy romance. There’s a lot of misunderstanding and miscommunication between the two, and for a large portion of the book each literally has no idea where he/she stands with the other. By having this book told through dual narration, Kaufman and Spooner allow the readers to form a fuller picture of the relationship as it unfolds. And, because trust and romance do not enter the picture until about halfway through the book (though there are indications throughout so I don’t consider this to be a spoiler), readers would have lost a good chunk of character development for one of the characters, had this story been told exclusively through one perspective.
I liked both of the protagonists, and I’m not sure I could choose a favorite here. Both Lilac and Tarver have complex, multilayered characterizations that complement each other very well. Lilac has cloaked herself in a veneer of self-confidence and apathy, very much aware of the dangers faced by those males who get too close to her. She’s spoiled and haughty, but she’s also lonely and struggles with the shame of how her father has hurt others in his desire to protect her. Tarver still struggles to accept the fact that he’s now a famous war hero and all that entails. His new status and the new social circles he occupies make him uncertain, and I got the impression that he’s not entirely comfortable with his role in the military. Neither of them has had a perfect or easy life, but their lives and struggles are believable enough.
What connects Lilac and Tarver – more than the crash, more than any initial sparks – is how they’re able to connect with one another over their personal uncertainties and insecurities. The physical, emotional, and psychological struggles that Tarver and Lilac endure from the crash and subsequent trek across the mysterious planet are positioned perfectly to allow for maximum character development and growth. Of course, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that most survival stories are written to test their characters’ physical and mental strength, but that doesn’t mean that These Broken Stars doesn’t succeed in that regard. Given the fact that the story takes place over a limited amount of time, I don’t think the romance would have been nearly as believable if there wasn’t an emphasis on life-or-death struggles. As it is, these challenges force Lilac and Tarver to reevaluate their beliefs and trust in each other in a quick enough way that is believable and helps the story continue its fast pace.
A minor disappointment I have with this story is that it’s not precisely a work of science fiction, at least not in the typical sense. The Icarus crashes within the first sixty pages of the book, and Lilac and Tarver themselves crash land on the planet even earlier than that. There are still elements that can best be described as science fiction, but the focus of These Broken Stars is more survival- and romance-based. Both of those elements are very well done and I enjoyed them, but it is worth noting that few traditional science fiction elements come into play here. And those scientific elements that do come into play felt a little bit muted to me. The authors do attempt to provide answers to many of the questions posed in this story, which mainly all go back to the question of why any organization would devote the resources to terraforming a planet only to then abandon it. While an explanation is given to this question, as well as a few other ones that relate to it, I didn’t feel as though the answer was given the sufficient depth or gravity that it deserved. The focus for the final part of the book was on answering these questions, but for reasons other than simply gaining an understanding, if that makes sense. The final section is also the one part where I do feel as though Lilac and Tarver’s relationship overwhelmed the story.
For a survival story, this one isn’t incredibly harrowing. There are scary situations and difficult experiences, but readers know from the beginning that Lilac and Tarver are saved, for each chapter is punctuated by a brief interview between the military and Tarver regarding his experiences on the planet and later rescue. This knowledge makes their journey a bit less worrisome, but also makes a few of the major plot twists lose a bit of meaning. Not that there isn’t meaning or enjoyment to be found in their journey itself, however. The slight alleviation of urgency in this story is something that I think will affect readers in different ways. For myself it was a little disappointing, but nothing unbearable.
Overall, however, I quite enjoyed this novel. It packs a compelling premise, likable, relatable characters, and twists galore. The publication of more YA science fiction would be a welcome one, as would the continuance of novels that better mediate the divide between action and introspection, as this one does. I look forward to reading more works by Kaufman and Spooner.
Rating: 4 stars