Review: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray

lost starsLost Stars, the young adult entry in the Journey to the Force Awakens, reads like fanfic.

For many people, the phrases “young adult” and “fanfic” give Lost Stars two strikes before even turning to the first page. There’s a big stigma out there against YA fiction, because, and let’s not be blunt here, teenage girls read it. That’s not to say YA is all great — it can be melodramatic and poorly written — but the same is true of adult books, is it not?

Then there’s the fanfic comparison. Many people like to criticize Expanded Universe books they dislike by calling them “glorified fanfiction.” To me, though, fanfic is not an insult. Fanfic represents a land of opportunities in Star Wars literature. You can write about whoever you want, doing whatever you want, whenever you want. You can stick to canon or split into an alternate timeline. There are no rules. So you could, for example, create your own original characters and have them live through key events of the Galactic Civil War.

Lost Stars takes that common fanfic premise to the extreme, and that’s a good thing. Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree are childhood friends who attend the Imperial Academy together. Eventually circumstances force them apart, then back together, then apart again, etc. etc. People have described this story as Romeo and Juliet in Star Wars, but I don’t think that’s a fair comparison. The dislike between the Montagues and the Capulets seems kind of petty in comparison to Thane and Ciena’s basic disagreement about the goodness of the Empire. It’s not a huge spoiler to say that they eventually end up on opposite sides of the war, but they never stop loving each other.

Claudia Gray does a masterful job showing the power of the Empire, both in the way Ciena and other characters are able to justify the Empire’s actions, while still showing individual goodness. Ciena may be an Imperial, but she’s not a bad person. And it would be very easy to paint Thane as the “good guy,” but he doesn’t so much choose to join the Rebellion as the opportunity falls into his lap. For every character like Biggs Darklighter, who consciously defected to the Rebellion, there have to be dozens like Thane who weren’t fighting for freedom and liberty, but just wanted to see the Empire end.

Overall, Lost Stars was an enjoyable read and I liked it way more than I expected. Ciena and Thane were both interesting characters, and I liked the supporting cast as well. (A separate essay could be written about Nash Windrider, and hey, Bria did just that right here.) The beginning of the book gave more of a sense of what it was like to be a citizen of the Empire, and why people would welcome the Empire, while the latter part of the book showed just how oppressive and awful the Empire could be. “Claustrophobic” would be a good way to describe certain scenes, as you felt there was just no escaping the inevitable for either character.

That said, just like the fanfic it emulates, Lost Stars reads best when it focuses on events outside the Original Trilogy. I really, really enjoyed the book up through the events of the first Death Star’s destruction. I knew immediately when Thane and Ciena received their first duty assignments that things were about to get real, and they did. The aftermath of those events were also a thrill to read. But once we started getting into The Empire Strikes Back territory, I found myself skimming a bit. I don’t mind rehashing Original Trilogy events as long as we’re getting a new perspective, but mostly it was Thane and Ciena wondering if the other survived, and those scenes passed by way too quickly and easily, in my opinion.

Another problem I had was that by the time we were close to the ESB time frame, it felt like so much time had passed in this novel. It’s a sprawling tale, stretching over a period of 15 years. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes it felt like this novel should have been a trilogy instead of one long tale — or perhaps split into three parts with distinct time jumps.

Moving on to other things I enjoyed: Lost Stars excels in the diversity aspect, with Gray describing Ciena and several other characters as dark-skinned. There aren’t many aliens in the cast, but she does introduce some much-needed aliens (and women!) to the Rebellion pilot ranks. I liked that the romance, while melodramatic at times, wasn’t immature. Thane and Ciena have known each other for a long, long time, and their romance took time to develop. Also, they didn’t give up their lives to be with each other. They both want to be together, but they’re not willing to turn their back on their beliefs to do so. That’s a really important lesson for kids (and adults!) to learn.

While I had some issues with the pacing, the rehashing of some Original Trilogy events, and an aspect of character agency in the endingLost Stars was a much-appreciated departure from the norm of Star Wars fiction. We tend to get either adult or middle grade books, but nothing in between. Disney and Lucasfilm are missing a key age range, and would do well to produce more high-quality young adult books like Lost Stars in the future. I mean, come on, that ending is begging for a sequel.

No matter what your opinions about romance and young adult fiction are, I’d recommend picking up this book. Heck, you might realize you enjoy YA in general and find some other books to pick up as well!