There’s a specific fantasy trope that I think I will love until the day I die. I’m speaking, of course, of what I like to think of as ‘ballgown fantasy’, the kind of books that spend as much time describing the beautiful dresses the main character will be wearing to the next social engagement where she will doubtless find at least two complex eligible bachelors.
Ok but imagine that…
But in space.
That’s where Alexa Donne’s The Stars we Steal comes into play, this Persuasion inspired story is basically everything I want in soft comfort-read science fiction.
Engagement season is in the air. Eighteen-year-old Princess Leonie “Leo” Kolburg, heir to a faded European spaceship, only has one thing on her mind: which lucky bachelor can save her family from financial ruin?
But when Leo’s childhood friend and first love Elliot returns as the captain of a successful whiskey ship, everything changes. Elliot was the one that got away, the boy Leo’s family deemed to be unsuitable for marriage. Now, he’s the biggest catch of the season and he seems determined to make Leo’s life miserable. But old habits die hard, and as Leo navigates the glittering balls of the Valg Season, she finds herself falling for her first love in a game of love, lies, and past regrets.
I’ll kick off by saying I read this with absolutely no knowledge of Persuasion (yes, I know, I’m a terrible person) so I can’t speak to the similarities between the books – just to explain why I’m not mentioning those aspects of the story!
The best way to describe this book is definitely ‘comfort read’, it perfectly encapsulates the kind of books I like to pick up when my brain is totally fried when I want something that will bring me joy and won’t be too taxing.
That isn’t to say the book is devoid of threat, I don’t think you can write a book set in space without there being a little bit of constant danger, but it always feels manageable and it’s offset by a lot of partying and general ‘fluffiness’ in the middle. There’s also a general sense that the nobility in this fleet are at risk from the lower classes. In another book, I might have been disappointed by how little impact this had on the main plot of the book, but in this instance, I think that the book handled it well. The book was clear from the beginning what the focus of the story was, this wasn’t the story of Leo being ripped out of her world and forced to confront the inequalities of the society to which she contributes, this is a romance and the political upheaval forms the backdrop to some of those events, prompting some conflict but ultimately the plot is moving in a different (though adjacent) way.
Our heroine, Leo, is exactly the character you would expect to find in such a story, she’s feisty, independent, she’s got a brain on her and she isn’t afraid to use it – she’s reasonably socially aware (though see above for how much this book focuses on ‘justice’) and she’s got a tragic romance in her past! This isn’t a particularly novel character archetype, but that’s kind of the theme of this review – this book is good because it is so familiar. As a reader, you know what to expect from Leo and from the story as a whole and sometimes that’s just what you need!
What I most appreciated about this book was that finally, I got a book that was centralised around a heteronormative dating ritual…but it acknowledged that queer people exist??!?!?
No, but really, one of the main characters is a lesbian, they mention non-binary individuals and they even call out the fact that the ritual can be quite exclusionary. I really wasn’t expecting this book to do that and it was such a pleasant surprise. So often my biggest criticism of science fiction books (or any futuristic fiction) is that they don’t tend to include queer characters or recognise the place of queer people in their societies – this was a huge win and bumped this book way up in my estimations!
I enjoyed the romance in this story if you know this is Austen inspired I don’t think I need to go into too much detail about what to expect, I think it’s probably one of those things where you can read too much of the same kind of romance – personally I don’t read a large number of romance-centred books so it worked out well for me.
Overall, I’d say this is certainly a book to look out for. It’s a delightfully fun, self-aware comfort read that would, I imagine, be a great antidote to a reading slump!
My rating: 4 / 5 stars
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.
The Stars we Steal is out now!
What say you? Is this on your TBR? What’s your favourite comfort read? Let me know in the comments below!