Book Review: Stars Uncharted by S.K. Dunstall
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: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Ace (August 14, 2018)
Length: 416 pages
Stars Uncharted is an adventurous romp through space with three extraordinary characters: Nika Rik Terri is a talented body-modification artist who has made a name for herself with her innovative designs and methods; Josune Arriola is a traveler who has just signed on with the crew of the cargo ship The Road to the Goberlings, working as their junior engineer; and Hammond Roystan is the captain of that ship, who has just stumbled upon a find of a lifetime in the form of the disabled exploration ship Hassim whose databanks are said to be a treasure trove of uncharted worlds.
But what makes this story interesting is that no one is who they say they are. On the run after getting mixed up with some dangerous people, Nika flees from her old life aboard The Road with a rookie modder named Snow in tow. There, they get to know Josune and Roystan, who are dealing with their own set of problems. That’s because Josune is in fact a crew member from the Hassim, who had originally joined up with Roystan in order to spy on him and arrange a meeting between their two ships. Unfortunately, her plans go awry when it turns out that the Hassim was attacked by pirates, and everyone on board was massacred. With some very powerful enemies after her, she is now stuck in a precarious situation. Meanwhile, Roystan is also hiding his own share of secrets. His ship has become a target now that everyone thinks he holds the key to unlocking the mysteries of the Hassim, and the added threats are doing nothing for his already stressed mind and ill health. Traveling under a false identity, Nika beings to suspect that not all is right with The Road’s captain or his engineer, as her experience with body modding allows her to identify inconsistencies both their stories.
Stars Uncharted turned out to be everything I expected from a rollicking space opera: heavy on the action and adventure, though admittedly a little sparse on the details surrounding the world-building and technology. That said, the story was for the most part vastly entertaining. The first few chapters did feel slower, perhaps because of all the setting up required to establish the book’s premise and characters. However, once Nika, Josune, and Roystan finally met up and became a team, things got exponentially more interesting. Not surprisingly, it’s because the story’s three protagonist are at the heart of Stars Uncharted. The dynamics between them made this novel thoroughly engaging and addictive despite, or perhaps because of, all the secrets flying between them, for even though they come from different backgrounds, a sense of “We’re all in this together” prevails. Each character is well-developed with multiple layers of emotion and personality, which also interlock with each other to holds those relationship bonds together.
But as I made mention before with regards to the world-building and the technology described in this novel, those elements were relatively light. This, I believe, was a purposeful and practical decision, for it would have been no good to bog down the flow of this perfectly exuberant space opera with reams of techno-jargon and hard science. On the other hand, there’s not much in the way of guidance provided when trying to navigate this book’s universe, as readers are thrown into the thick of things from the very first page.
In order to keep up the story’s fast pacing, I suspect a lot of details were sacrificed, though there is one exception to this: body-modding. The narrative goes much deeper into the subject of body modification than it does for any other topic, though considering the role it plays in the story, I can see why. Incidentally, I also found it to be one of the most compelling issues in the book. As Nika’s specialization, I loved that she treated her work as an art as much as it is a science. While her job is to cater her designs to her clients’ needs, she isn’t shy about adding some flair of her own, which is why some laud her as a revolutionary trendsetter while others accuse her of being a rule-bending menace. However, the general idea is that identity is a much less important factor in the world of Stars Uncharted, since whatever you wish to be or look like can be arranged with a bit of money and a few hours spent inside a modding machine. The social implications of this is something I wish the story had spent more time exploring, though a lot of fascinating information can also be gleaned from the attitudes of the characters aboard The Road.
All told, it was a pleasure to finally read something by S.K. Dunstall. The pen name of this sister writing duo first landed on my radar with the Linesman trilogy and I’ve been curious about their work ever since. Stars Uncharted might not be breaking any new ground, but it sure managed to pull off exactly what it set out to do, which is to provide a fun sci-fi read full of exciting twists and other genuine delights, and the authors did a superb job.