Stargazer is a rousing space adventure set in a fascinating universe brought vividly to life. Exciting and action-packed, it’s one of the most purely fun books I’ve read this year.
Lilly is a princess from Oasis, a garden planet currently at war with the neighboring Ravigans. Raviga is a desolate world made inhospitable through years of abuse by its people, who would like nothing more than to take over the wealthy, prosperous Oasis and make it their own. Lilly’s uncle Alexander, the sovereign of Oasis, sends her on a mission to address the interplanetary Senate, hoping that they will agree to side with Oasis and come to the planet’s aid. Not knowing who can be trusted, Lilly finds passage on board a cargo ship, traveling as a poor commoner.
On the journey, the ship comes under attack by the Ravigans. In the chaos Lilly can only turn to one person for help: a prisoner being transferred in stasis to a distant prison planet. She was warned that this man killed five people, but with the ship in danger and her bodyguard dead, she releases him from his confinement. Together they escape the ship and make their way to a nearby planet.
Shaun Phoenix is a mystery to Lilly. He has gray eyes exactly like her own, eyes that she’s never seen before on a man. They are the mark of the Circe, a race of telepathic witches to which Lilly’s mother belonged. The Circe rose up against the oppressive males on their world generations ago, and any male child born of a Circe is immediately killed. But as Shaun begins to exhibit telepathic abilities like her own, Lilly has to wonder who exactly he is. At the same time, she has to trust him as he takes on the role of her protector, defending her from the attempts on her life and the numerous parties who intend to use her to advance their own goals.
The truth about Shaun is fairly obvious from early on in the book, but that doesn’t detract in the least from this thoroughly engrossing read. Hodge’s world-building is nicely done, really immersing the reader in this complex and thoroughly-imagined universe. She does a great job making it accessible. From the very beginning, I was pulled into the characters’ world and never had any trouble following it or understanding how it worked. The exposition is handled gracefully, as the author seamlessly integrates the back story and explanations into the narrative in ways that never slowed down the plot.
This is a fast-paced story that kept me furiously turning the pages. The author deftly balances action sequences, character scenes, and emotional moments in a smooth narrative. It’s the kind of book where the storyline is complicated but doesn’t feel like it as it’s being read, because all the elements are blended so well. Shaun and Lilly both have interesting backgrounds that come into play and add intriguing dimensions to the story. There’s a large cast of characters whose personalities are strong enough that keeping track of who’s who is never a problem. There’s a lot involved in terms of the plot, yet it all flows so well.
While the characterization doesn’t go as deep as it could (and perhaps should), Shaun and Lilly are strong, likable characters. The romance feels forced at times, but is still effective overall. The story could have been developed more in several areas, but the world the author builds is so fascinating and the drama so involving that it remains a very entertaining tale throughout.
Despite these flaws, Stargazer is a real thrill ride and an easy book to recommend. Packed with action and moving at lightning speed, it’s loads of fun. Its only truly unlikable aspect is the cover, with the model’s terrifyingly overdeveloped upper body (Yikes!). Readers who enjoy SF romance set in an intriguing world won’t want to miss it.