Title: Defy the Stars
Author: Claudia Gray
Publication Date: April 4, 2017
Publisher: Little, Brown/Hachette
“She’s a soldier.
Noemi Vidal is seventeen years old and sworn to protect her planet, Genesis. She’s willing to risk anything–including her own life. To their enemies on Earth, she’s a rebel.
He’s a machine.
Abandoned in space for years, utterly alone, Abel has advanced programming that’s begun to evolve. He wants only to protect his creator, and to be free. To the people of Genesis, he’s an abomination.
Noemi and Abel are enemies in an interstellar war, forced by chance to work together as they embark on a daring journey through the stars. Their efforts would end the fighting for good, but they’re not without sacrifice. The stakes are even higher than either of them first realized, and the more time they spend together, the more they’re forced to question everything they’d been taught was true.”
While Defy the Stars sounds like a high stakes joy ride through space, and it is, this book is also about so much more than Firefly-inspired intergalactic shenanigans. Claudia Gray’s latest novel is fundamentally about the relationship between humans and robots, and questions what it means to be human, and to have a soul. Defy the Stars also takes a critical, theoretical look at space colonization, and what happens when Earth is dying and has to find other planets for humanity to call home. This far-flung attempt at colonization causes the ongoing war between Earth and the planet Genesis, Noemi’s home.
Noemi is a soldier prepared for a mass suicide mission to dismantle Earth’s main access gate to Genesis in order to stall for time against future attacks. She’s ready to die for her home, and is willing to do anything to prevent Earth from ruining Genesis. I admittedly felt lukewarm about Noemi over the course of this novel, largely because I felt like her personality and characterization were a bit erratic. Abel, the other, AI protagonist, is by far my favorite part of Defy the Stars. He is hilariously passive aggressive and sassy, and his character development over the course of this book was incredible. Abel definitely came across as the standout character, and seeing him grapple with these new “developments” was wonderful. However, in terms of the romance (that you know, you just know was bound to happen) between them, I felt meh at best. In fact, I think I might have enjoyed this novel more if there was no romance at all.
Visiting each of the different planets in the Loop was another favorite part of Defy the Stars, and it provides the reader with a great foundation of the world and the dynamics on each planet. I’m sure this will come in handy in the sequel, but it was also just interesting to collect those little nuggets of world building along the way.
While Claudia Gray creates an interesting perspective in Defy the Stars with Noemi’s faith, this book is still comprised of the same recycled scifi themes and tropes we’ve all seen before – Earth needs a new planet, a tense human/robot dynamic, and the evil of corporations and people who refuse to grow old and die like the rest of us. Unfortunately, I found the overall story to feel a bit…done. I knew pretty much exactly how this would play out as soon as the major conflict was presented. Also, if you follow me on Goodreads then you’ll know I had a major problem with one aspect of the writing: the use of present tense. I’ve read plenty of books written in present tense, but for some reason it bothered me so much in Defy the Stars. This is something that I recognize is purely my personal preference, but apparently I’m one of those people who has strong opinions on present v. past tense. Who knew.
I did, however, love the ending. It may not be satisfying to some, but I felt like it was the best possible way to finish out this first book, and I’m now very intrigued to read the sequel. I feel like the black sheep compared to other early reviews, but although I enjoyed Defy the Stars, it wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped, and definitely didn’t feel new. I’d still recommend this novel if you’re into scifi, especially if you’re new to the genre. Claudia Gray does an excellent job of creating fraught and philosophical human/mech dynamics, while calling into question the very idea of what makes us human. A good balance of space travel shenanigans and self-discovery, Defy the Stars is definitely worth checking out on April 4th.
Rating: 3.5 stars
*I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for a free and honest review. Thanks again to Little, Brown/Hachette!