Book Review: Starswept by Mary Fan
With an intriguing premise and captivating mysteries to be solved, Starswept will grab you by the hand and take you on an unforgettable journey.
When I first heard about the concept behind Mary Fan's new young adult novel, I was immediately intrigued. In order to escape a bleak life on Earth, talented children are raised competing with each other in various arts for limited spots as performers on an alien world. Yes, please! First of all, space. And aliens. And it has this unique artistic/creative element. Obviously a recipe for a whole lot of awesome. But secondly, it's just not quite like anything else I've heard of before, and it raises all kinds of interesting social implications which (as anyone who's read some of my book reviews should know by now) are kind of My Thing™. After seeing some of the author's posts on social media about the book, I decided I definitely needed to get a copy. Fast forward a few months, and here we are.
This book did not disappoint. Protagonist Iris Lei narrates, which definitely brought the artistic focus of the story to center stage and worked well given the setup. I loved the descriptions of performances and music that were woven into the story. Many times, I felt like I was in the scene watching the dancers along with Iris or hearing her play her music. I also loved how so much of what Iris perceives is presented through this lens of art and music and her relationship to it. It definitely made her come to life on the page and took me right inside her head.
The first half of the book felt a little slow to me and even got somewhat repetitive in places, but once the story hit that half-way mark, things really escalated and I could hardly put it down. And, now that I know the book is going to have a sequel, I appreciate the author taking the time to build those relationships and flesh out the setting of the Papilio school early on in the story. I especially loved all the big reveals towards the middle and end of the book as we finally get some answers to the questions we've been asking along the way. It all fell into place so well and gave the story a much more sinister, dystopian vibe than I was expecting, which was fantastic.
Characters were well-developed and engaging, including many of the minor ones. I liked Iris as a protagonist and identified with her passion for her art and her quiet determination. Milo and Cara were my favorite characters--Milo because of his optimism and internal struggle with the consequences of being an Artist, and Cara because of her snark and dedication to her cause. I will definitely be looking forward to (hopefully) seeing more of both of them in the next book. I wasn't quite as invested in Iris' alien love interest, Damiul. He felt a little generic to me, but I did like how his story-line played out and the reveal we got about the secrets he'd been keeping from Iris.
Overall, this was a great read and I'm glad I picked it up. If you enjoy YA science fiction and are looking for something with a unique premise, you should definitely give this one a try.