The Lunar Chronicles meets Rook in this queer #OwnVoices science-fantasy novel, perfect for fans of Marissa Meyer and Sharon Cameron.
A secret beats inside Anna Thatcher’s chest: an illegal clockwork heart. Anna works cog by cog — donning the moniker Technician — to supply black market medical technology to the sick and injured, against the Commissioner’s tyrannical laws.
Nathaniel Fremont, the Commissioner’s son, has never had to fear the law. Determined to earn his father’s respect, Nathaniel sets out to capture the Technician. But the more he learns about the outlaw, the more he questions whether his father’s elusive affection is worth chasing at all.
Their game of cat and mouse takes an abrupt turn when Eliza, a skilled assassin and spy, arrives. Her mission is to learn the Commissioner’s secrets at any cost — even if it means betraying her own heart.
When these uneasy allies discover the most dangerous secret of all, they must work together despite their differences and put an end to a deadly epidemic — before the Commissioner ends them first.
What is Tarnished Are the Stars about?
At its heart, this book is about finding a sense of belonging. Anna, Eliza, and Nathaniel have all struggled to feel at home during their short lives. Each has been used as a pawn in the game the Commissioner and the Queen are playing. Anna wants to protect and improve the lives of her friends in Mechan, Nathaniel wants to finally feel seen and Eliza wants to take her rightful place. These dreams all come crashing to a halt when happenstance and the Queen’s machinations bring all three of them together planetside.
Genre: Science Fiction
This book is pretty firmly a YA Sci-Fi novel. There are some additional features–such as a smattering of dystopia, and a little bit of an assassin/spy moment–but otherwise it’s pretty clear where this book stands.
Tropes: Corrupt Power, All Around
There is very much a theme in this book of being aware. Secrets are dangerous in the world of the Settlement and Mechan. Even Anna, who is morally upright, finds herself playing with the power of being the Technician and finding out just what it costs to flaunt the laws of the Settlement for so long.
Plot: Earth got messed up, so let’s go mess up a New Earth!
Much of the plot hinges on the machinations of the wealthy and elite that are in charge of the new human settlement. Having essentially destroyed Earth as we know it, the humans sent to terraform a new planet have concocted elaborate rules to prevent a similar fate from befalling the new Earth–but that good old corruptive influence of power raises its ugly head.
I think overall I enjoyed all of the characters. Nathaniel could be frustrating at times, but I appreciated how compassionate he could be. Eliza, of the three, was my favorite and the easiest to understand in my opinion. Anna and Nathaniel wear their traumas and tragedies on their sleeves, whereas Eliza was much more closed off–something I preferred as I read. The descriptions were all very good and interesting. I didn’t have a lot of the same issues I usually do with sci-fi when it came to the setting, probably because it was largely taking place on the New Earth where technology was relatively simple. I enjoyed that this was largely a political game rather than a true sci-fi focus on tech and space explorations (topics I don’t generally find interesting).
It felt a little bit as though Nathaniel’s aro/ace identity wasn’t set up as thoroughly as it could have been. Of the three characters, Nathaniel does the earliest thinking about relationships–which would have been a prime opportunity to set up the aro/ace reveal. When Eliza remembers her first love, it becomes immediately evident that she is attracted to women. Anna is understandably too busy for most of the novel to think about these things. But Nathaniel has very little light in his life outside of the awkward letter writing with Eliza–which is not portrayed as awkward because of his aro/ace identities. Maybe if more time were spent with Nathaniel before his reveal that established how uncomfortable he was with the idea of getting married?
As much as I enjoyed the political aspects of the book–arguably these were my favorite parts–things got far too convoluted by the end. When none of the main characters are able to really sniff out what’s going on, regardless of how smart they are, then either the villain needs to be an incredible genius or the whole thing is too complicated and no longer enjoyable to read. Unfortunately, despite Eliza setting up the Queen to be so powerful, I never really believed her as a full fledged super villain. Instead I found there were too many layers to the schemes and deceptions going on at the Settlement, and I didn’t find it believable at all that things wrapped up so quickly and easily in the end.
For the most part, this is a pretty solid and enjoyable read. The characters are interesting, the representation feels considerate and realistic, and I enjoyed that the political schemes were more important than technology and other typical sci-fi aspects. The ending felt somewhat rushed through and messy for my tastes, but the build up to it was fantastic. I love the use of Eliza’s arrival to disrupt Anna’s and Nathaniel’s conflicts, and I enjoyed the multiple cat-and-mouse games being conducted throughout the story. The settings were richly detailed with fantastic descriptions, and the relationships were heartbreaking and absorbing. I would recommend this book, especially for folks who find hardcore sci-fi overwhelming but want a taste of it.