Published by Tor Books on September 28, 2021
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Bantering Books Rating:
Good Omens meets The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet in this defiantly joyful adventure set in California's San Gabriel Valley, with cursed violins, Faustian bargains, and queer alien courtship over fresh-made donuts.
Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six.
When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka's ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She's found her final candidate.
But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn't have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan's kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul's worth. And maybe something as small as a warm donut is powerful enough to break a curse as vast as the California coastline.
As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe for is found.
Bantering Books Review
If only heart alone could make a novel great. If only positive themes of hope, transgender and queer identity, and acceptance were enough to lift a story to the skies.
Because if that were the case, Ryka Aoki’s sci-fi/fantasy novel, Light From Uncommon Stars, would soar to the universe and back. And my task as a book blogger would be considerably easier since I would not be writing this lukewarm review.
But other than making me hanker for donuts and regret giving up the violin in the fifth grade, the novel didn’t do much for me. Its heart and its hope simply weren’t enough to elevate it to excellence.
Katrina Nguyen, a queer trans woman, is a talented violinist who longs to be accepted by her family. After running away from home, she finds herself in a tough spot until she crosses paths with Shizuka Satomi, a famed (and cursed) violin teacher, and Lan Tran, a space alien donut-shop owner.
Sounds quirky, doesn’t it? It totally is – and the quirkiness is delightful. The novel is a joyous celebration of Asian Americans, queerness, space aliens, music, and yummy food.
But it has a lot going on. In addition to the aforementioned themes, Aoki tackles weightier topics like racism, transphobia, self-harm, rape, and abuse, and Light From Uncommon Stars suffers for the too-busy plot. Aoki is unable to devote adequate time and attention to these aspects of the story, resulting in a weak, thinly-stretched narrative and flat characters with minimal growth.
The biggest problem, though, is the novel’s unusual stylistic format. Aoki continually switches character perspective – and I don’t just mean from chapter to chapter. It’s more like, mid-scene and mid-conversation. Every five to ten paragraphs, the narrative is paused by a section break to allow for a perspective shift. It’s jarring, choppy, and distracting. And because I was constantly dropped in and out of the story, I was neither immersed in the narrative nor emotionally connected to the characters.
Light From Uncommon Stars is a novel I wish I would’ve loved. And while many of its elements are praiseworthy, more than anything, I found it tiring to read. I was relieved to be done with it.
My sincerest appreciation to Ryka Aoki, Tor Books, and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy. All opinions included herein are my own.