YA Weekend Audio: Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Series: Book 1 of Defy the Stars
Publisher: Hachette Audio (April 4, 2017)
Length: 11 hrs and 21 mins
Narrators: Nate Begle, Kasey Lee Huizinga
I first discovered and became a fan of Claudia Gray through her Star Wars novels. Having loved Lost Stars, I next went on to read and enjoy Bloodline, but even then I was aware that media tie-ins cannot give me the full measure of an author. And so I’d hoped to try one of her Young Adult books for quite some time now, which eventually led me to Defy the Stars.
The book first introduces readers to Noemi Vidal, a seventeen year old soldier for her planet, Genesis. Ever since her people split from Earth many generations ago, the two sides have been fighting. However, Earth has a powerful weapon on their side: Burton Mansfield, a scientist and cybernetics genius who designs androids, or mechs, for the purposes of war. Genesis has been pushing back against these untiring machine forces for as long as Noemi can remember, but it’s just a matter of time before her side loses the war—unless, of course, they take some drastic measures to prevent the enemy from overwhelming them and destroying them all. And so, along with her best friend Ester, Noemi volunteers for the suicide mission that is meant to be the last ditch attempt to save their world.
Meanwhile, on a battled-damaged and abandoned ship called the Daedalus, a mech named Abel has been living alone for the last thirty years, yearning to be reunited with his creator. As the most advanced mech the galaxy has ever seen, he is Burton Mansfield’s greatest and most perfect creation, though in the eyes of Genesis, he is an abomination. For the past three decades, Abel’s programming has been learning and evolving, becoming more human. And then one day, Earth launches a surprise attack on Genesis’ ships, leading a pair of Genesis soldiers to come across the Daedalus in their desperate attempt to escape. Unaware that it not completely abandoned, the two of them board the ship, hoping to find some medical supplies. And that is the story of how Noemi and Ester first met Abel, characters from two warring sides forced by chance to work together in order to survive.
Equal parts space adventure and slow-burn romance, Defy the Stars was an entertaining sci-fi romp from start to finish. I’ve also come to realize that Claudia Gray’s Star Wars novels were not a fluke; this author has got a fine talent for writing stories about characters on opposite sides who have to put aside their differences to work towards a common goal. Like the romance that blooms between a rebel pilot and an Imperial officer in Lost Stars, the relationship between Noemi and Abel also follows the same measured pattern, unfolding realistically as the two of them gradually learn more about each other and where they come from. The love between them is earned, only coming after friendship and trust is established.
The fact that Abel is a mech could have been a point of awkwardness, but I was pleasantly surprised this was not the case. I was happy enough to go along with the explanation that he is the most advanced model Mansfield has ever created, which would account for a lot of his human-like behaviors and thought processes—this is because for all intents and purposes, Abel is human. Gray puts the reader inside his head as he realizes all these changes are happening to him, and I found the evolution of the character to be quite convincing. As well, Abel’s nature may make his personality somewhat open and blunt, but the same flaw also makes him a good and genuine “person”. I loved his frequent and hilariously candid observations about human behavior almost as much as I did his sincere feelings toward Noemi. She in turn is a good match for Abel, even though in many ways she is his complete opposite—passionate, driven by her emotions, and strongly committed to her faith. At the same time she is also headstrong, independent and capable of handling a variety of challenges, including teaching Abel a great many things about what it means to be human. I have to say, one of the reasons I enjoyed the dual POVs so much was because of how it portrayed the growth in their relationship and the way we got to see the chemistry from both sides.
It’s also great to see that Claudia Gray’s work outside the Star Wars universe is just as entertaining. Before I go overboard with my praise here though, just don’t expect this book to set new standards or shatter any molds. There’s nothing too deep here, admittedly, but Defy the Stars is still a rollicking fun read with a romantic arc I actually enjoyed (kind of rare for me, in YA) and on the whole I found the story engaging and thoroughly satisfying. If you’re a YA fan who enjoys science fiction and stories set in space, this fun and fast-paced adventure among the stars could be exactly what you’re looking for.
Audiobook Comments: I was lucky enough to review the audio edition of Defy the Stars and I was not disappointed. Narrated by Nate Begle, who read Abel’s sections, as well as Kasey Lee Huizinga, who read Noemi’s, the audiobook was a great listen. Both narrators did a fine job, and Begle’s performance deserves an extra mention for his ability to find the right balance for Abel, making him sound suitably “mech-ish” but still emotional and human-like. I have no complaints at all and would not hesitate to continue this series in audio format. Highly recommended.