Desert Isle Keeper
Sky Without Stars
If I think back to my teenage years, it’s almost a guarantee that the lovely soundtrack for Les Misérables will be the backdrop for my memories. I never got around to reading the book, but I adored everything about the musical. So it should come as absolutely no surprise that I was thrilled to bursting when I learned that Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell had penned a retelling of this iconic story. The fact that this version takes place on a faraway planet five hundred years in the future worried me a bit, but it didn’t take long for my fears to be laid to rest. Sky Without Stars, the first installment in the System Devine series, was everything I wanted in a retelling and more.
Before I get into discussing the actual story, I want to assure potential readers that familiarity with the original novel is not a requirement for picking up Sky Without Stars. As someone who knows the story backwards, I was able to identify and appreciate the authors’ nods to the original, but you’ll be able to follow this tale with no trouble regardless.
Five-hundred years before our story begins, a terrible catastrophe befell Earth. The authors don’t give us a lot of details about the actual disaster, but we do know that the majority of the human race did not survive. However, there was one extremely wealthy French family who came up with an escape plan, and they led a small group of people into space where they searched for a planet that could sustain human life and become their new home. The planet they settled on is called Laterre, and for some time, it proved to be a peaceful place to live.
When our story opens, life on Laterre is far less idyllic. Huge numbers of the planet’s residents are starving in the streets, while a few very rich and powerful families live in luxury. Murmurs of revolution are beginning to sweep through the land, but no one seems to know how to get such a huge undertaking off the ground – although there seem to be plenty of people ready and willing to figure it out.
Chatine grew up in the slums. Forced into a life of crime by her parents, she’s one of the most accomplished thieves Laterre has ever seen, but she’s not content to live the rest of her life stealing just enough to survive. She dreams of a different life, one filled with nutritious food and warmth, safety and security. Unfortunately, such dreams come at a cost, and Chatine is willing to pay whatever price those in power deem necessary in order to get away from the circumstances of her birth, even if that means spying on one of the most influential young men in the world.
Marcellus is the son of a notorious traitor and the grandson of a beloved general. He has worked hard to convince those around him that he’s nothing like his father, but his grandfather doesn’t seem to trust him. He grew up thinking he would one day step into his grandfather’s shoes, but that dream seems far from coming true. There’s now a part of him that is beginning to wonder if he’ll ever be able to live up to the old man’s rigid standards, and he begins spending time with some of the commoners – from whom he learns some disturbing truths about the regime he has been serving for as long as he can remember.
Alouette lives in a secret underground refuge where she serves as one of the guardians for Laterre’s only existing library. Those in power have outlawed the written word, so Alouette and a group of nuns are doing all they can to keep the collection of books from being discovered by those who would destroy them. It’s been twelve years since Alouette has set foot above ground, and she sometimes wonders if life up there can really be as terrible as the nuns believe it to be. When someone close to Alouette is murdered, she is forced to leave her refuge and make sense of life out in the real world, and her appearance will set in motion a terrible series of events that could spell an end to civilization as Chatine, Marcellus, and Alouette have always known it.
What follows is an utterly addictive tale unlike anything else I’ve read in recent years. It’s filled with a hint of romance, a ton of political intrigue, and fantastic world building that transports the reader to a place and time never before encountered. The book is almost 600 pages long, but the story moves at a steady pace, and I was surprised how quickly I flew through it.
I loved the bits and pieces of Les Misérables lore I found woven through this story. The authors are telling their own tale for sure, but they do a fantastic job paying homage to the original in the process. They’re able to breathe new life into this classic story while being respectful of its roots, and I’m one-hundred percent in favor of the result.
The novel does end on a bit of a cliffhanger, and I hate the thought of waiting to find out what happens next. You can bet I’ll be keeping an eye out for any news about the second installment, and I’m fervently hoping it’s released sooner rather than later.