Steeped in adventure and intense sci-fi world building, Claudia Gray’s Defy The Stars takes us to new worlds full of spaceships and robots while adeptly telling a story about the power of humanity.
Genesis is one of four planets Earth discovered and colonized many years ago. But despite its scientific advancements, Earth remains wasteful and destructive, taking advantage and quickly depleting the natural resources of its new planets. Genesis fought back and won its independence in the Liberty War, but 30 years later, Earth is back once again. This time, they’re destroying Genesis’ young military with advanced robots known as “mechs.” Genesis is growing desperate, sending soldiers like 17-year-old Noemi Vidal into an impossible fight. So desperate, in fact, that Noemi is one of several soldiers due to die in an effort to temporarily disable Earth’s portal to Genesis.
Twenty days before her mission, Earth launches a surprise attack. Caught in a tight spot, Noemi is forced to board a disabled enemy ship in the debris. What she doesn’t realize is that Abel, the universe’s most advanced mech, is also on board. Despite once being companion to one of the most powerful men on Earth, Abel’s programming forces him to obey Noemi as his commander. With Abel’s vast knowledge of the world beyond Genesis, Noemi quickly concocts a plan to save her home planet. But on a strict timeline and with no practical experience of the universe, Noemi must work with Abel to complete her mission. Soon, she realizes there’s more to the mech than just programming.
You may be thinking “Wait… Is this a love story between a human and a robot?” I know there’s a certain squick factor to that trope, and I felt it too among reading the description. But breathe easy, folks! This story is, in part, about relationships and the way we connect with others. Noemi and Abel are fascinating both as individuals and as a team. I absolutely rooted for them. But you will not be stuffed with whimsical descriptions of lustful pining and obsession. These two are on a mission! There is action, danger, and adventure! Ain’t nobody got time for romance and googly eyes!
Noemi was raised a soldier, so she’s definitely a capable character. However, it’s the attributes that sometimes make her stick out negatively in the military, like her extra feist and questioning nature, that make her the most interesting character. She’s brave enough to volunteer for a Genesis-approved suicide mission, but smart enough to risk everything for an alternate solution that will save lives. Childlike but efficient, Abel is not your regular robot. If anything, it seems he’s more cyborg. All “mechs” are part human, part machine, but Abel is an unique model whose one-of-a-kind design and strange circumstances lead his consciousness to outweigh his programming. If he doesn’t expose himself, everyone assumes he’s was human. His character absolutely brought smiles to our faces and added some unexpected twists. He struck more of a chord with us than Noemi, but both characters are great.
The two travel through “The Loop,” an interconnected ring of habitable planets in different galaxies. Beyond Genesis is Kismet, a resort planet for the uber wealthy. Next comes Cray, a planet designated for scientific study and technological advancement, then Stronghold, a harsh, icy planet that only accepts the strongest and most capable to share in its comforts. Stronghold leads back to Earth, and Earth to Genesis. Thanks to some carefully placed mines, no resident of Genesis has been to Kismet or beyond in thirty years. Noemi is the first, making her journey even more incredible.
Along the way, they meet up with some clever characters like Veronica, a tech genius who will trade just about anything for a chance to study Abel, and Ephraim, a Stronghold doctor who understands the complexities of the galaxy better than anyone might expect. Through them, Noemi discovers something important: Her home planet isn’t part of Earth’s exploitation game, but in cutting themselves off from other planets in need, they’re part of the problem.
I didn’t expect Defy The Stars to leave me as hopeful and impassioned as it did. Sure, it’s as fun as a rip-roaring space adventure can be, but there’s a lot of reflection involved. This is a novel about what it means to be human; what it means to find yourself through a greater cause, namely protecting humanity as a whole. It carefully weaves in talks of free will, religion, and the crux between helping others and protecting yourself.
I have some minor quibbles, like wanting to know more about Noemi’s life on Genesis and hoping for more secondary character development, particularly in the cases of Riko, Harriet, and Zayan. But overall, we really enjoyed this clever, well-written thrill ride with a contemplative streak. Things end on a very interesting note and we can’t wait to see how the next book plays out!
RATING: 4.25 OUT OF 5 STARS
Defy The Stars hits bookshelves tomorrow, April 4, 2017. You can pre-order it now via Amazon.
Noemi Vidal is a teen soldier from the planet Genesis, once a colony of Earth that’s now at war for its independence. The humans of Genesis have fought Earth’s robotic “mech” armies for decades with no end in sight.
After a surprise attack, Noemi finds herself stranded in space on an abandoned ship where she meets Abel, the most sophisticated mech prototype ever made. One who should be her enemy. But Abel’s programming forces him to obey Noemi as his commander, which means he has to help her save Genesis–even though her plan to win the war will kill him.
Together they embark on a daring voyage through the galaxy. Before long, Noemi begins to realize Abel may be more than a machine, and, for his part, Abel’s devotion to Noemi is no longer just a matter of programming.