[Mini-Review] Nuanced and Thoughtful Sci-Fi YA: Ignite the Stars and A Conspiracy of Stars

I’ve been wanting to add more sci-fi to my repertoire for ages. So when after hosting the #EverlastingNoraPH blog tour, Marie Cruz offered to send me a care package with her book plus Maura Milan’s Ignite the Stars, I was all for it! Anyway, I’d been eyeing this YA space opera since it came out last year – not to mention I’d also resolved to read more science fiction in 2019 (I love fantasy, but a girl needs variety, you know?)

Following on the heels of this book was yet another sci-fi novel: A Conspiracy of Stars, by Olivia A. Cole. (Does that name sound familiar? It should. Her husband talked her out of buying a haunted house. Bless.) This is another sci-fi book that discussed themes of colonialism – this time from the point of view of a child of the colonizing species (a.k.a., humans), giving readers deeper insight into a popular trope.

Essentially, reading these two-books was a one-two punch of excellent, thought-provoking science fiction, and I’m gonna need everybody else to check them out!

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Title: Ignite the Stars

Author: Maura Milan

Genre: Sci-Fi, Space Opera

Rating: 5/5

Summary:

Everyone in the universe knows his name. Everyone in the universe fears him. But no one realizes that notorious outlaw Ia Cocha is a seventeen-year-old girl.

A criminal mastermind and unrivaled pilot, Ia has spent her life terrorizing the Olympus Commonwealth, the imperialist nation that destroyed her home. When the Commonwealth captures her and her true identity is exposed, they see Ia’s age and talent as an opportunity: by forcing her to serve them, they will prove that no one is beyond their control.

Soon, Ia is trapped at the Commonwealth’s military academy, desperately plotting her escape. But new acquaintances—including Brinn, a seemingly average student with a closely-held secret, and their charming Flight Master, Knives—cause Ia to question her own alliances. Can she find a way to escape the Commonwealth’s clutches before these bonds deepen?

Trigger warnings: Themes of colonialism and imperialism, body modification, graphic descriptions of injuries

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You know me. Anytime a book explores the themes of colonialism and imperialism, I am here for that. And this? The themes of colonialism and imperialism set in space? Fulfills that need, and more!

On the surface, it seems like the circumstances of a wacky space sit-com: intergalactic criminal gets caught and gets sent to boarding school. It sounds like something out of early 2000s Disney, starring Selena Gomez or Demi Lovato or Zendaya. But Ignite the Stars is so much more than that. It’s carefully nuanced, and even the romance that appears doesn’t feel shoehorned in, nor does it feel shoved front and center.

Ia is easily one of the most complex characters I’ve ever met in my long history of reading. What I liked about her is that, while you do see how her life as an outlaw and a wanted criminal has hardened her into a stone-cold badass, there is an undiscovered side of her that is still, at its core, a teenage girl. Brinn, her roommate at the Commonwealth’s military academy, slowly brings out this side in her, as does Knives, the prodigious flight master who is tasked with keeping Ia in line.

You’d expect the other main character, Brinn, to fade into the background when paired with such a dynamo, right? WRONG. Brinn shines just as brightly. She’s half-Tawnie, a species with blue hair and higher IQ than any other in the galaxy. After the Uranium War that nearly decimated the Commonwealth, the Tawnies are refugees, and looked upon with hatred and disgust by the citizens of the Commonwealth. Growing up with the notion that being Tawnie is bad, Brinn naturally ends up hating this part of her heritage. But when she meets Ia, she realizes the truth about the Commonwealth, and eventually learns to love who she is and where she comes from. It’s a beautiful, beautiful character arc that I know a ton of people can relate to and benefit from.

I also really loved the friendship that slowly built between Ia and Brinn! Now, you know me. I consistently have my shipping goggles on when it comes to f/f pairings. But I can honestly say I didn’t feel that with Ia and Brinn. Which for me was great, because I got to appreciate the camaraderie and rapport that slowly formed between them. They’re complete opposites, and yet were able to learn to care for and rely on each other. I LIVE FOR FEMALE FRIENDSHIPS, Y’ALL.

The twists were a bit predictable, but that didn’t take away from the overall excellence of the plot. As I mentioned earlier, the eventual romance between Ia and Knives was not forced at all. Also, I adored the world-building! Maura was able to share information about the universe she created with strategic info dumps that weren’t too weighty, instead providing a much-needed break from all the action going on.

Overall, this book was a fun, interesting read. The plot was gripping and interesting, and the characters were realistic and complex. I definitely cannot wait for the next book, featuring an Ia now reluctantly working for the Commonwealth!

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Purchase Links:
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Title: A Conspiracy of Stars

Author: Olivia A. Cole

Genre: Sci-Fi, Planetary Romance

Rating: 5/5

Summary:

Octavia has only ever had one goal: to follow in the footsteps of her parents and become a prestigious whitecoat, one of the scientists who study the natural wonders of Faloiv. The secrets of the jungle’s exotic plants and animals are protected fiercely in the labs by the Council of N’Terra, so when the rules suddenly change, allowing students inside, Octavia should be overjoyed.

But something isn’t right. The newly elected leader of the Council has some extremist views about the way he believes N’Terra should be run, and he’s influencing others to follow him. When Octavia witnesses one of the Faloii—the indigenous people of Faloiv—attacked in front of her in the dark of night, she knows the Council is hiding something. They are living in separate worlds on a shared planet, and their fragile peace may soon turn into an all-out war.

With the help of Rondo, a quiet boy in class with a skill for hacking, and her inquisitive best friend, Alma, Octavia is set on a collision course to discover the secrets behind the history she’s been taught, the science she’s lived by, and the truth about her family.

Trigger warnings: Themes of colonialism and imperialism, graphic descriptions of injuries, description of a vegetarian being tricked into eating meat

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Essentially? This book is what Avatar could have been were it more nuanced and well-researched, and that’s the tea.

I recognize that not many people are probably going to feel this book. While I was reading it, I found myself enjoying it immensely, but I also recognized that it wasn’t something that was going to be universally liked. Nevertheless, I urge you to give this book a chance. It was just so well-written, you guys. I need the next book like, yesterday.

In the community of N’Terra on the planet of Faloiv, humans fleeing from a destroyed Earth manage to coexist with the indigenous sentient race, the Faloii. This is the world Octavia is born to and grows up in, but all that may change soon with the appointment of a new Council leader with more extremist views. All Octavia wants to do is live peacefully, study the local wildlife using non-invasive methods, and maybe fall in love with a cute hacker named Rondo along the way. But she may have to step up to save Faloiv when she discovers that her father is in league with the Council leader, and that what they’re planning has put them on the brink of all-out war.

Covering the themes of imperialism and colonialism in sci-fi from the standpoint of the colonizer is not an easy thing to do. In fact, when done insensitively, it can turn into one giant ass clusterfuck (see: 27 Hours and The Continent). BUT. Thank you God and also Jesus, Olivia massively and wonderfully delivers with this one. I know I talk a lot about nuance and research and context, and honestly, if you want to see what I’m talking about, read this book.

All the characters mess with the stereotypes you get used to in the best way. You easily see a ton of women in STEM, participating in the research done on Faloiv. You also get the supposed bitchy popular girl being more multi-dimensional than expected, and just as intelligent and feisty as the main character. Octavia and her best friend Alma are, as budding scientists, as logical as Olivia could make them. In fact, I never had a moment while reading where I was like, “oh my god, you should’ve done this or that.” The characters’ decisions all made sense and were founded on rationality and critical thinking, while at the same time still being absolutely appropriate to the fact that they were teenagers.

This book is admittedly very slow-paced, but the mystery aspect and the political intrigue subplot definitely make it worth the wait. If you’re looking for well-written, well-researched YA sci-fi that tackles sensitive topics with aplomb, add this to your tbr!

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Love and light,
kate

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