Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Tin Star

by Cecil Castellucci

Story Summary: Thula is beaten and left for dead by a cult leader to whom she was just a little too clear-thinking. Stuck in a space station outpost with no money, friends, family, food, anything, she has to build up her life from the ground up, while navigating the tricky world of inter-species relations.

Why You Will Like This Book:
  • Survival on a space station! How Thula learned to survive in the gutters of a space station is probably my favourite part of the book.
  • Interesting and well-developed alien races! The galaxy has an interesting political system too.
  • Quite unexpected romance! (There's also some quite expected romance, but that's for the second set of points below.)

And Why You Might Not:
  • As I mentioned above, some of the romance seems a bit cliched YA to me. It was all about "he makes my heart race!" and nothing about his actual character in any way.
  • It's quite short. Some changes seemed a bit abrupt because of that. Could have used a bit more build for a few things.

Thoughts: So much fun. I was not expecting this to be that good. I thought it would be much more standard YA fare with a scifi twist, but instead it was delightful scifi with aliens and survival and politics, oh my! And almost no heart-fluttering, sexy romance! Until there's an annoying little flurry of it half way through, but even that takes a turn for the delightful at the end. But I'll discuss that later.

Tula is a great character, and her perspective on aliens and galaxy is a great focus.* Considering it's a certain kind of scifi, I expected there to be more space travel. On the contrary, she is stuck in the gutter of a space station for the whole freakin' time. And I actually liked that aspect. You got a unique and personal perspective on the galaxy because of that. You can feel the grand moving of galactic politics, but it's far-removed in a way that usually is for people in real life. Also, because of the focus on Tula's perspective, the world-building isn't overly explained. It might explain alien customs by saying things like "I thinned my lips to show gratitude" instead of "this kind of alien shows gratitude by thinning their lips". Might seem like a subtle an unimportant difference, but I think it's important.

Also, friendship! I loooooved her relationship with Heckleck especially. Heckleck himself was a great character, and I'm so glad it was their relationship that took up the focus of the first half of the book.

Speaking of relationships, I now have some comments on the romance, but part of the uniqueness of it involves a spoiler. So I'll makes some general comments, and then you'll have to rot13 the rest if you don't care about spoilers.

I'm so happy that there was no obvious YA romance for the first third to half of the book.** So many books introduce the love interest within the first few pages, and he's so obviously the love interest that I can't stand it. True, when the romance finally it came here, it did drive me a bit crazy. There were basically three possible love interests at once. But it got better. Turns out one was in love with someone else, one was obviously just playing the survival game, and the other didn't drag out tension too much but they got together fairly quickly. And then! things switched around abruptly in the end, in a way that made me like the whole book much more, but that I also can't talk about because spoilers. Translate below at your own risk:

Fur jrag jvgu gur nyvra! V'z n ovt sna bs hahfhny ebznapr, naq guvf bar jnf qrsvavgryl qvssrerag, orvat vagre-fcrpvrf. Orpnhfr Gbheabhe vf na nyvra, lbh trg abar bs gur hfhny "ur'f fb frkl" fghss. Gurve sevraqfuvc jnf rfgnoyvfurq orsber nalguvat ryfr, naq terj fybjyl bire gur pbhefr bs gur obbx. Cyhf Gbheabhe jnf whfg terng punenpgre. V yvxrq uvz.
Gur bayl ceboyrz jnf gung vg frrzrq n yvggyr bs na noehcg punatr ng gur raq. V jnf xvaq bs ubcvat sbe vg, naq gurer jrer yvggyr uvagf guebhtu gur obbx, fb vg jnfa'g gung zhpu bs n fhecevfr. Ohg fgvyy. Sryg n ovg gbb fhqqra. Creuncf orpnhfr gur obbx vf fb fubeg gb ortva jvgu?

It is a surprisingly short book. I was shocked on re-reading it how short it actually was, since it seems to fit so much plot and development in. But I still think it could use some filling out. As an example, the hocht (duel-like fight) seemed to be put in purely for the sake of having a hocht. I wish it was given a better reason to happen, and more build-up. But in the end, the fact that I did re-read it, and straight away at that, indicates a lot. It was one of those books for me.

Grade: 4 stars

* Reminded me a little of another recent read, A Wicked Thing, in that way. Both main characters were surprisingly great, although not ones that'll make my list of favourites. And both books focused on the heroine in a delightful way. (And both books had too many love interests too, but in a way that turned out mostly ok in the end.)
** Stray is another good book that starts with the survival of the main girl for a sizable portion of the book before finally introducing romance that is a little bit annoying, but not too important to the book itself.

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