Author: Cecil Castellucci
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Roaring Book Press
Publication Date: February 2014
Hardcover: 240 Pages
On their way to start a new life, Tula and her family travel on the Prairie Rose, a colony ship headed to a planet in the outer reaches of the galaxy. All is going well until the ship makes a stop at a remote space station, the Yertina Feray, and the colonist’s leader, Brother Blue, beats Tula within an inch of her life. An alien, Heckleck, saves her and teaches her the ways of life on the space station.
When three humans crash land onto the station, Tula’s desire for escape becomes irresistible, and her desire for companionship becomes unavoidable. But just as Tula begins to concoct a plan to get off the space station and kill Brother Blue, everything goes awry, and suddenly romance is the farthest thing from her mind.
Stand alone or series: First in a planned series
How did I get this book: ARC from the Publisher
Format (e- or p-): eARC via NetGalley
Why did I read this book: I’ve had some awesome experiences with Cecil Castellucci’s work in the past, plus, you know, space station-set YA SF novel. How could I resist that?
Disenchanted with the overcrowded politics of Earth, Tula Bane, her mother, and sister leave the planet behind, embarking on the trip of a lifetime to the stars. Under the leadership of Brother Blue, the charismatic head of the Children of Earth colonist movement, Tula’s family is just one group of many such pilgrims on their way to make a fresh start and establish a new colony on Beta Granade. Everything is going so well for fourteen-year-old Tula – her quick mind and ability to speak basic Universal Galactic means that Brother Blue has taken her on as a kind of apprentice, raising the status of her family among the colonists.
But when Tula notices something that she shouldn’t notice, and discovers that Brother Blue isn’t who he seems to be, she’s beaten within an inch of her life and abandoned by her family, left for dead on the middle-of-nowhere space station Yertina Feray.
Though Tula clings to life, everyone tells her it would have been better had she had just died. Amongst the stars, humans are among the lowest of the low of all life forms and seen as uncouth, rootless, isolationist creatures. With no family to save her, and not a single other human on Yertina Feray, Tula is utterly alone.
Luckily for Tula, a fellow low alien creature named Heckleck decides to take a kind of pity on her and hires her as an errand girl, bartering in secrets and goods in the dark underbelly of the space station. (As it turns out, Tula has a natural gift for trade, thanks to her quick mind and her ability to read others’ body language, so it’s not entirely a pity-save on Heckleck’s part.) As the years pass, Tula settles into life in the guts of Yertina Feray and even makes friends – but always, always her hatred burns for Brother Blue. When 3 new humans show up, marooned, at the space station and have ties to Brother Blue, Tula vows to exact her revenge, no matter what the cost.
The first book in a planned series (although ostensibly one could read this book on its own), Tin Star is a solid entry in the increasingly popular field of YA science fiction (particularly the YASF of the generational ship/space exploration slant). Cecil Castellucci’s greatest strength – at least in the books I’ve read of hers – lies with her painfully genuine main characters, and Tin Star‘s Tula is no exception. Easily, Tula’s determination, her consuming anger, and all her rough edges are my favorite parts of this novel. Brutally beaten, left for dead, and abandoned by her own species, Tula’s plight at the very first chapter is terrifying and really, really serious. Instead of crumpling in upon herself like a dying star, or relying on the aid and succor of others, Tula’s stubborn will to survive is what keeps her alive – and, ultimately, it’s what catches the eye of Heckleck, who becomes Tula’s employer and then her dear friend. I love the relationship between Tula and the salty Heckleck, how their bond of friendship and reciprocal wariness works; more than that, I love that neither Tula nor Heckleck simply go with the other’s opinion to smooth things over or because it’s convenient. Take, for example, Tula’s all-consuming desire to get off Yertina Feray and exact vengeance at any cost, versus Heckleck’s preference to keep his head down and make a careful, unnoticed life amongst the drek and at the outskirts of the universe. Revenge, as he tells Tula, is a dish he’s sampled before and one that is never quite as satisfying as one wishes. Despite their differences, though, Tula and Heckleck are partners and comrades – and I really miss reading about friendships in YA novels. So kudos to Cecil Castellucci on that front.
Also on the positive side are the scientific aspects of this particular science fiction text. Tin Star might not be hard SF by any stretch of the imagination, but it explains how humans and various aliens can communicate and cohabitate the same space in a way that allows one to suspend disbelief with no issues (nanites). I also liked the basic structure of this future universe, with a greater empire, the difference between “high” and “low” species, and the power dynamics that govern the universe – from the major worlds, to the most insignificant space stations.
While we do get a nice glimpse of the larger picture in Tin Star, I was a little disappointed that so much politicking and action takes place off-screen (although it makes sense, given how isolated Tula is from the rest of civilization) – but I do hope for more depth in the next book. Similarly, the impetus for conflict in the book – that is, Brother Blue and his nefarious Schemes for Power – is presented as a kind of twist at the end of Tin Star, but his motivations are fairly obvious from the outset of the novel. That said, future books might hold future depth, and I’m eager to discover more with Tula’s next adventure.
The only other criticism I have for Tin Star regards its slightly misleading descriptive copy and the romance said copy plays up within the book. From the description above, it sounds like Tula Bane is hurt by Brother Blue but finds true love at an inconvenient time. (Doesn’t it? Or was that just me?) This really isn’t a book with a romantic core; it’s not a story reliant on romance in contrast to, say, Beth Revis’ Across the Universe. There’s a requisite romantic entanglement that happens between Tula and another obvious character, BUT that’s really not an even remotely central relationship to the story. That’s not to say that there ISN’T romance. There is. But it comes from an unexpected place (ok, not that unexpected as I won’t spoil it, but I TOTALLY CALLED IT) and I am exceedingly happy that Castellucci took the romance down this particular road. (I realize that I’m being vague, but it will make sense when you read the book. Promise.) Finally, I must note that Tula’s motivations or actions aren’t once driven by True Love – Tin Star is really more of a revenge tale, and that is the driving force in Tula’s life.
The verdict? Tin Star is solidly enjoyable, derelict space station-born fun. I’ll be around for the next book, most definitely.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
There are things colder than the blackness of space.
But lying here, I couldn’t imagine anything colder than the Human heart that left me half-conscious at the entrance to Docking Bay 12.
I knew where I was. I was on a space station called the Yertina Feray, sixteen light years from Earth orbiting a depleted, lifeless planet. I knew where I was supposed to be, on the Children of Earth colony ship, heading for the planet Beta Granade. And I knew what Brother Blue was thinking, that my body was no longer his problem.
Again I felt his boot come toward me, determined to kick my life away. I braced myself for the blow and then played dead. He kicked me one last time, and satisfied that I was truly gone, he pulled me beside the cargo canisters of grain that had been loaded off our ship, the Prairie Rose.
My nose mask had been ripped off, and the station’s base atmosphere mix was hardly enough to keep me conscious for much longer. I cracked open one of my swollen eyes as much as I dared. I wanted to get a good look at him as he stood there above me, taking a moment to compose himself.
I had gone from being one his favorite colonists, with prospects for a good future with the Children of Earth, to persona non grata in a matter of days. I never knew a fall could be so quick.
You can download the first 5 chapters for free in ebook formats listed here.
Rating: 7 – Solid YA SF with so much potential for more growth in the future
Reading Next: Bad Half by Sally Green
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