Thursday, March 27, 2014

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

A galactic love story with shades of Titanic, These Broken Stars is unlike any science fiction novel you will read.

Lilac Rose LaRoux is the only child of Roderick LaRoux, the wealthiest and most powerful man in the universe. Lilac is traveling through dimensional hyperspace on the Icarus, one of her father's spaceships with a friend, Anna and her bodyguard, Swann, on her way home to Corinth. On the same ship is decorated war hero, eighteen year old Major Tarver Merendsen, heading home for his next posting. Men consciously avoid Lilac LaRoux, heiress to an unimaginable fortune, because even to be seen talking to her can have deadly consequences for a man.

Tarver is unaware who Lilac is when he first sees her. He moves to intervene in an altercation and manages to meet Lilac, whose beauty, red hair and straightforward manner appeal to Tarver. They spend a few minutes talking until Anna returns and Tarver understands he is supposed to leave. When they meet a few nights later on the observation deck of the Icarus, instead of a friendly encounter, Tarver finds he is dismissed abruptly by Lilac. Although Lilac finds she likes Tarver, she knows that he might be in danger from her father if they are seen together.

Their lives are suddenly thrown together again when the Icarus is ripped from hyperspace and begins to collapse. As Tarver is making his way to his escape pod he manages to save Lilac from the chaos of panicking crowds. They make it to a pod which aborts its launch due to a power failure but Lilac hotwires it and they escape the dying ship.  Tarver and Lilac are shocked to discover that they are near a planet on which they crash land.Both Tarver and Lilac are uninjured, but their communication array has been destroyed.

Tarver decides  to hike to the top of a nearby hill to get a look at the surrounding area. They appear to be on a terraformed planet, but Tarver notes that the vegetation is unusually uniform and very large, despite the planet's rich air. Lilac insists on accompanying Tarver, despite wearing a long gown and designer high heels.During their hike, they watch the destruction of the Icarus as it enters the planets atmosphere and crashes beyond mountains in the distance. Tarver tells Lilac that if they are to have a hope of being rescued they need to be where the Icarus crashed as that is where the rescue crews will search.

Most of the novel now recounts their journey towards the Icarus and the change in their relationship as they endure the hardship of survival on an alien planet. Their walk through the forest is slowed by Lilac's large dress and her unsuitable footwear which cause her feet to swell and blister. She is convinced that they should stay at the escape pod and this leads to an argument and the two of them separating with Lilac determined to return to the pod. It is at this time that Lilac begins to notice the background whispers of the forest; "Snatches of sound rise up from the awful, untidy forest all around me for a moment sounding just like voices, high and distressed." Lilac notes that Tarver doesn't seem to hear the voices or if he does, they don't seem to bother him.

 On her journey back to the pod, Lilac is immediately confronted by a large cat-like animal.When Tarver returns to rescue Lilac they continue their journey onward but things rapidly begin to change.  While waiting in the forest as Tarver scouts ahead, Lilac again notices "The forest is full of sound and movement I can't track, things that flicker out of the corners of eyes, vanishing before I can focus on them. The major doesn't seem to notice...But it's as though the forest is whispering all around us...".

From his scouting, Tarver finds an escape pod at the edge of the forest with all the occupants dead. He buries them but does not allow Lilac to see how many or who they are. He strips the boots off a dead woman and gives them to Lilac. She is horrified but agrees that if they are to make it to the Icarus she needs something more suitable to wear. When they arrive at the edge of the forest they make camp at the beginning of the plains. That night Tarver is awakened by Lilac who insists she can hear a woman crying - a woman whom she later realizes sounds like her. All night searches by Tarver reveal no human presence.

As they journey across the plains, they see no signs of colonists, but Lilac insists she hears a man's voice. Worried, Tarver urges Lilac to rest, concerned that she is suffering from exhaustion and hallucinating. Because they are running out of the nutrition bars they have been surviving on, Tarver collects grasses for them to eat and also sets snares to catch small animals.

The struggle to survive gradually begins to draw Tarver and Lilac closer together. The previous misconceptions that had about one another begin to dispel as they learn more about each other. They spend time talking about their lives and Tarver reveals that his mother is the famous poet, Emily Davis, whom Lilac happens to read. Lilac also learns that Tarver's older brother, Alec, was killed in action. For the first time since meeting Lilac, Tarver feels that she is finally seeing him as he really is, and not as a war hero or a lower class soldier. Similarly, Lilac begins to sense that Tarver is becoming more comfortable with her and that he considers her beautiful.

Lilac continues to hear the voices but now they are coming from the direction of the mountains and the Icarus wreck. She also notices for the first time, that what they thought was a second moon appears to be an array of lights in orbit. As they journey across the plains in a soaking downpour, Lilac hears heartbreaking sobs over the rain. Struggling to maintain her sanity, Lilac is further frightened when she goes to the river to get water and sees a group of people pointing towards the mountain pass leading to the wreck of the Icarus. Lilac however, doesn't believe she is going insane because she tells Tarver that one woman wasn't wearing boots and of the five people she saw, one was a soldier with dog tags and two were men in evening dress. She is convinced that these are the dead people from the escape pod and she knows she is correct by Tarver's reaction.

The view of what is happening on the planet changes drastically when Lilac is warned by the voices to leave the cave they have sheltered in during a blizzard. Both Tarver and Lilac begin to realize that she is not going mad and they must consider "the possibility that she's receiving communications..." from something or someone. They are pushed further in this direction when both see the same vision of Tarver's home.

When they arrive at the Icarus they work to unravel a startling mystery about the planet that will forever change their lives.

These Broken Stars is a brilliantly written novel that is both a romance and a piece of unique science fiction. The main strength of this novel is the relationship between Tarver and Lilac and how that relationship blossoms from one rooted in prejudice and misunderstanding to one of mutual love. The authors take their time developing Tarver and Lilac's relationship, having them develop respect and support for one another that leads ultimately to them both developing the maturity to take on Lilac's powerful father.  My only complaint is that the characters should have been slightly older, perhaps twenty-one and nineteen. Nevertheless, their story is tender and beautifully written.

Although the romantic element of the story is entirely predictable, the mystery of the whispering voices set on an alien planet adds a decidedly science fiction touch that makes this novel extremely appealing.

Kaufman and Spooner tell their story in the alternating narratives of Tarver and Lilac. In between sections of this narrative is a short page featuring part of Tarver's debriefing by authorities, which of course tells readers that the two are ultimately rescued and indicates that Lilac's father and the scientists know Tarver has not revealed what really happened on the planet.

This is the first in the Starbound series written jointly by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. The second novel in this series is a companion novel which tells another story with different characters.If it's as unique as the first novel, readers will be in for yet another treat from this wonderful writing duo.

Book Details:
These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
New York: Hyperion      2013
374 pp.

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