The Stars We Steal
Persuasion meets The 100 in Alexa Donne’s The Stars We Steal.
Earth is a frozen wasteland. What’s left of humanity circles the planet in a flotilla of spaceships, waiting for it to thaw, but as on earth, rank and wealth still mean a great deal. The descendants of those who had money and power planet side orbit in luxury, on posh transports filled with plentiful food and water. The children of those who did not are crammed aboard dilapidated cruisers, struggling for every scrap.
This is perhaps never more obvious than during the Valg, engagement season for the rich, powerful and titled. Eighteen-year-old Princess Leonie – Leo – Kolburg is heir to a faltering ship and financially destitute title. Her father believes the solution to their problems will be the generations-old tradition of marrying money. Leo believes that getting a patent for a water system she invented, far more efficient than the one currently being used by the fleet, is the answer. She agrees to participate in the Vlag, along with her younger sister, in order to buy herself time to raise money for the patent.
The situation is greatly complicated when Leo’s childhood friend and first love Elliot returns as the captain of a successful whiskey ship. Elliot, the son of her father’s former valet, had proposed to Leo several years earlie and she had accepted. They were blissfully happy for twelve hours but pressure from her family caused her to call the whole thing off. Now he is the catch of the season – or is he? Something doesn’t seem quite right about Elliot’s story and it is incredibly suspicious that the very first night he is on the Valg ship, terrorists hack the communications system to send a pointed message to the attendees.
Leo finds herself drawn into greater and greater danger as she once more begins to fall in love with Elliot and is torn between family, friends and the boy who challenges her to see beyond the confines of her privileged world.
Reviewers Shannon Dyer and Maggie Boyd sat down to discuss The Stars We Steal and are here to share their thoughts on the novel.
Maggie: I love science fiction/fantasy, and I also love exploring the concept of marrying from necessity. The Stars We Steal has exactly the kind of combination that captures my interest. What drew you to this story?
Shannon: I’m a big fan of retellings these days, and while Jane Austen has never been a particular favorite of mine, I found the idea of a retelling of Persuasion set in space to be quite intriguing.
Maggie: I’m a big fan of Austen’s Persuasion, so I was pretty excited about that, too. How did you think the author did with that aspect of the story? Do you think she was true to Austen’s vision?
Shannon: Honestly, I didn’t get much of an Austen vibe from The Stars We Steal. I suppose some of the ways Donne created her world reminded me a bit of Persuasion, but not enough to say she achieved her goal.
Maggie: I thought she captured the father character very well, as well as the dynamic in social structure between Elliot and Leo. This is a character driven story, centering on how Leo, Elliot, Leo’s sister Carina, and a whole host of other teens, get along. I liked everyone except Elliot. I had a lot of issues with him, mainly that I found him petty and unethical. I liked Leo but thought she wasn’t anywhere near ready for marriage and I saw nothing about her that would have made her creation of the water filtration system possible. She wasn’t interested in science or engineering and you would have to have a love of one or the other, or both, to do what she did. What are your thoughts on the characters?
Shannon: I didn’t really like any of the characters. Leo came off as incredibly pretentious, and like you, I wasn’t able to buy into the idea that she created this fantastic water filtration system. I never felt like I knew Elliot very well. Since the story is told exclusively from Leo’s point of view, I struggled to understand his specific motivations. Everything was colored by Leo’s perceptions, and that didn’t work well for me. The same is true for many of the supporting characters, all of whom felt kind of one-dimensional.
Maggie: Yes, many of them did come across as caricature rather than character. This book deals with a lot of serious subjects – financial struggles, murder, injustice, – but the tone is very light and almost all the problems are solved rather simplistically. Would you agree with that assessment or do you have a different take?
Shannon: I completely agree with you, and that’s one of my biggest problems with the book as a whole. Large, serious problems are solved in a way that doesn’t come off as believable, and I struggled to believe everything would be okay for the characters after the story ended. I would have liked to see a bit more care taken to come up with solutions to the social problems the novel tackles.
Maggie: I was really surprised that humanity decided to wait out the new Ice Age by circling the planet rather than doing anything to search for a new home. I thought the text should have addressed that. Did this also take you by surprise?
Shannon: It really did. The idea of all these transport vehicles just kind of hanging out in a never-ending circuit was more than a little strange to me. In fact, I was pulled out of the story a few times because I was overly caught up in figuring out how this would work and why the characters hadn’t done more to find a permanent home.
Maggie: I felt the HEA was entirely rushed and I struggled to understand why Leo made the decisions she did. I also felt very badly for the person who was hurt through it all.
Shannon: The HEA didn’t satisfy me at all. Like you, I found Leo’s actions difficult to understand. She had no problem using people, and even though she paid lip service to feeling remorse for the way certain characters were negatively affected by what she did, I never got a clear sense of how she planned to make amends. Everything just sort of fell into place for her and Elliot, and that’s not how I prefer HEAs to come about. I like to feel as though the characters experienced some personal growth, and I didn’t get that impression here.
Maggie: This story was a mixed bag for me. I think the fact that the likable teens weren’t mature, even though they were talking careers, marriage and kids, was disturbing. It would have worked if the author was sending them to college or it would have worked if her characters had been more grownup. She also didn’t make any effort to think through the issues regarding the Valg or how humanity would deal with centuries in space etc. However, the prose was strong, and the premise intriguing and I liked the way the author included the elements of Persuasion. Overall, I’d give it a C. What is your final grade?
Shannon: I’m going a bit below you with a C-. The world-building felt incomplete at best, and the gravity of what the characters were supposedly experiencing didn’t fit the light tone of the author’s prose. I enjoyed some of Leo’s inner dialog, but my lack of connection with her made it difficult for me to really care how things turned out.