Starswept by Mary Fan
Published by Snowy Wings; Scheduled for August 29th
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-fi
I just realized the irony of this: the last two books I read were called Starswept and Starfish, both with Asian MC’s! How coincidental. I love it.
In 2157, the Adryil—an advanced race of telepathic humanoids—contacted Earth. A century later, 15-year-old violist Iris Lei considers herself lucky to attend Papilio, a prestigious performing arts school powered by their technology. Born penniless, Iris’s one shot at a better life is to attract an Adryil patron. But only the best get hired, and competition is fierce.
A sudden encounter with an Adryil boy upends her world. Iris longs to learn about him and his faraway realm, but after the authorities arrest him for trespassing, the only evidence she has of his existence is the mysterious alien device he slipped to her.
When she starts hearing his voice in her head, she wonders if her world of backstabbing artists and pressure for perfection is driving her insane. Then, she discovers that her visions of him are real—by way of telepathy—and soon finds herself lost in the kind of impossible love she depicts in her music.
But even as their bond deepens, Iris realizes that he’s hiding something from her—and it’s dangerous. Her quest for answers leads her past her sheltered world to a strange planet lightyears away, where she uncovers secrets about Earth’s alien allies that shatter everything she knows.
I was immediately intrigued by the premise of Starswept. I honestly went into it expecting to love it more than I did. But there is a lot to love here, and the premise is a huge part of that.
First, there’s a lot going on. It’s dystopian, there are aliens, there’s this whole music school element. It doesn’t seem like it should all mesh but it does, very well for me.
The music school where we start is great because it feels almost commonplace, though it’s run, to a degree, by aliens and holograms. There’s so much pressure, so much realistic detail of band kids, and I really enjoyed that. The descriptions of the school, the performances, are all beautiful to me.
I found the dystopian aspect of this fascinating, though for the most part I’m burnt out on that. I love that this is an entirely new take on that. Aliens that could easily have taken over Earth don’t, because they’re so intrigued by human art. Instead they “sponsor” humans they like, and bring them to their planet. Meanwhile, everyone on Earth has it pretty terrible.
I like the aliens, too. I think their powers are fun and interesting, and the way they’ve chosen to interact with Earthlings is very cool.
So, overall, I like the story very much. I will say I’m confused because as far as I’m aware, this isn’t part of a series? Or at least it wasn’t introduced to me that way. If this is a stand alone book, the entire world remains unresolved at the end. That may seem like a spoiler, but I think it’s important to know because I would have liked to have known. I am left feeling distinctly unfulfilled because the parts with closure weren’t the parts I cared about.
Our narrator, Iris, I have mixed feelings on. I think she could be a little boring at times, but I did root for her, which is mostly what I’m looking for. The problem for me is that I’m mostly interested in the story, the world that has been built, but the big focus is on Iris and Damiul, and I couldn’t really get invested in either of them.
Damiul is the alien that Iris meets. I wanted to like this so much, I am SUCH a sucker for interstellar love. This was a little too insta-love for me. There was a lot going on behind the scenes that we didn’t see, we saw few of their meetings. But they were short and Damiul had to keep so much from Iris that their love didn’t excite me, it confused me. I can understand how it happened, when we have a girl so obsessed with finding “her prince,” but I couldn’t connect with their love story.
My two favorite characters are side characters, and both are only around for one half of the book or the other. I love Milo, Iris’s best friend on Earth. He’s fun, and considerably less naive. Then, on Adryil, we meet Cara, whom I also adore.
Overall, I liked it. The descriptions were beautiful. The world-building, especially during the second half, are phenomenal.
There are some pacing issues, and I think that’s the biggest problem I’m having overall. Some parts moved quickly and were really fascinating, some parts were too slow and it was hard to stay engrossed in the world.
Is that I would have LOVED for this to be split into two books. I think if the story between Iris and Damiul had been given more time to develop, I could have been on board with them. And I will be very disappointed if there is no closure for the world itself.