Desert Isle Keeper
Navigating the Stars
Much as I’ve enjoyed Ms. Snyder’s work in the past, I don’t follow her release schedule very closely. But when I do find out about a new release, I’m ready to dive right in. It didn’t even take ten pages of Navigating the Stars to have me hooked and desperate to read more.
The premise of the book is intriguing. Terracotta Warriors like those in China have been found on numerous other planets in the galaxy, prompting Earth to send out teams of archaeologists and explorers to try and understand how this happened. There’s speculation about alien involvement, but so far no aliens have been discovered, just the warriors with some strange markings. Lyra Daniels is the daughter of two archaeologists and has been dragged between planets all her life as part of this expedition.
While it was obvious just by reading the summary that this book would be interesting, I knew it would be a DIK the moment Lyra snuck away to attend her own funeral. You see, the time slippage caused by interstellar travel means that when you leave a planet, it will take only days for you to reach your next destination, while the people you left behind will live through years. So teenagers like Lyra who accompany their explorer parents have come up with the tradition of holding funerals for their departing friends. Some people will give eulogies, the person leaving reads their ‘will’ and gives out some gifts to everyone staying behind, and then they all cut ties with each other because it would be too difficult to stay in touch.
Lyra’s funeral shows a lot of insight into her character and the culture in which she lives. It exposes her as someone thoughtful but fun-loving, smart and willing to go to great lengths for the people she cares about. It explores the strange grief of leaving your friends behind in a way that we can’t really relate to. More importantly, it proves Ms. Snyder to be not only a good writer, but also an insightful world-builder, and it made me very excited to learn what else was in store for me in this book.
I don’t actually want to say too much about the plot, because the whole story is best experienced without preparation. The fact that aliens are suspected to exist in this universe but have not yet actually been discovered lends an air of uncertainty to the whole story as it made me wonder if and when they would show up. Each time there was a new discovery or disaster, I questioned whether there were humans behind it or something else.
Aside from the exploration and adventure aspects of the story, there are also some romantic elements. When Lyra leaves with her parents to explore the newest planet discovered to have Warriors on it, she’s grieving over the friends she left behind and not interested in connecting with anyone else. Then she meets Niall on the spaceship transporting them. He’s the brooding seventeen-year-old son of the ship’s head of security and is similarly uninterested in befriending Lyra because he knows he’ll leave her behind soon enough. Lyra’s determination to be a kind person gets the better of her, and the two slide into a friendship almost against their wills, which eventually turns into a romance.
I can’t say enough good things about the characters in the book – both main and supporting. Ms. Snyder does a remarkable job of showing depth and growth in everyone, but Lyra in particular shines as exceptionally well-written. She feels emotion deeply and puts a lot of thought into everything she does, so that as the reader it’s easy to agree with her viewpoint. Yet then she’ll be chastised by her parents, or experience something new, and will realize her initial thoughts on the subject were a bit narrow-minded or immature. In other words, she’s the quintessential seventeen-year-old; she generally thinks she knows everything, until something happens and she discovers there’s still room to grow. But Lyra does grow, which is wonderful to watch.
Her parents and Niall are a big part of this growth for Lyra. The former work hard to make Lyra feel loved and supported even as they’re consumed by their jobs. It’s clearly a struggle at times, but I was impressed by how they managed to fill both roles well and find time to guide Lyra toward adulthood. Niall guides her too, from his position as a peer. Just as Lyra challenges him to open up to people, he challenges her to respect rules when she would normally flout them (something that eventually plays a key role in the outcome of the story). They change each other for the better, which is exactly what I love to see in a good romance.
The saddest thing for me about this book is that I’ll have to wait a while for its sequel. While things do reach a point of closure at the end, there are still many questions left unanswered. I’d love to time jump into the future like Lyra, but alas, all I can do is stay here in the present and recommend this book to you. It’s a strong start to a promising series.