I received this novel from Orbit Books through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.
It always pains me when I have to DNF a review book, particularly because I tend to pick and choose them according to my tastes, which should enable me to target only novels I can be sure to enjoy, but sometimes this method fails and I’m faced with a story that does not work for me.
The Stars Undying had all the potential the be the kind of narrative I enjoy, enhanced by the fact that it’s inspired by the events surrounding the fateful meeting between the Egyptian ruler Cleopatra and roman conquerors Caesar and Mark Anthony, translated into a space opera background. Princess Altagracia, the heir to the Szayet empire, has been overthrown by her own sister, who also claimed the Pearl, the computerized device that imparts to Szayet rulers the wisdom of their god. When the commander of the fleet from the empire of Ceiao, Matheus Ceirran, lands on Szayet, Gracia sees in him the opportunity to regain power by using her feminine wiles, but she soon understands that the game might be more complex and dangerous than that…
I have to admit that my troubles with this novel started from the very beginning: the author throws her readers into the thick of things with little or no background to sustain them, and if that usually does not worry me – since I do indeed enjoy a good challenge – the way in which the story flows felt both confused and confusing and I struggled to understand how that veritable avalanche of names and places and background details could form an organic picture. More than once I backtracked through the chapters, driven by the definite sensation that I might have missed some pages or sections and that some vital information had eluded me, but I failed to find any helpful clue.
The story is told in alternating chapters equally shared by Gracia and Ceirran, and here is where I encountered more problems because their “voices” lack the kind of distinctiveness that would make their individual personalities stand out: if I was distracted and failed to take notice of the character name at the top of the chapter, I had a few moments of uncertainty about whose thread I was following because I could not readily distinguish between the two identities. The fact that it took me close to ten days to reach the 40% mark before admitting defeat, is a signal that my progress through the book was an uphill, losing battle.
When all is said and done, I firmly believe that it’s more a kind of “it’s not you, it’s me” issue with this book than anything else: from what I’ve read online, the consensus is that The Stars Undying is a brilliant debut, and I don’t doubt it – it’s just not the kind of book, or narrative style, that I find suits my tastes and I truly look forward to the comments of my fellow bloggers to learn what I might have missed or misunderstood in this failed reading journey.