Title: Earth Star
Author: Janet Edwards
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Pyr (US) / Harper Voyager (UK)
Publication Date: April 2014 (US) / August 2013 (UK)
Hardcover: 285 Pages
Romance, science fiction, action, and a look at the false assumptions we make about others combine in this light-hearted, fun, and well-conceived science fiction future.
Only She Can Save the World.
Eighteen-year-old Jarra has a lot to prove. After being awarded one of the military’s highest honors for her role in a daring rescue attempt, Jarra finds herself – and her Ape status – in the spotlight. Jarra is one of the unlucky few born with an immune system that cannot survive on other planets. Derided as an “ape”- a “throwback” – by the rest of the universe, Jarra is on a mission to prove that Earth Girls are just as good as anyone else.
Except now the planet she loves is under threat by what could be humanity’s first ever alien contact. Jarra’s bravery – and specialist knowledge – will once again be at the center of the maelstrom, but will the rest of the universe consider Earth worth fighting for?
Stand alone or series: Book 2 in the Earth Girl series
How did I get this book: ARC from the publisher
Format (e- or p-): Print ARC
Why did I read this book: I thoroughly enjoyed Earth Girl, the first book in this series by Janet Edwards, and was on tenterhooks waiting for this second book (especially since it came out in the UK last year). As soon as an ARC made its way to me here from the US publisher, I immediately started reading.
Jarra Tell Morrath isn’t your typical eighteen-year-old.
For one thing, she’s one of the few humans (0.1% of the population) born with an immune system deficiency, preventing her from portalling between worlds. That is, Jarra is one of the Earth-bound Handicapped – rudely labeled as an “ape”, a “nean”, and a “throwback” by the average portalling human. Jarra’s handicap, however, isn’t something that she’s ashamed of (although she certainly had a chip on her shoulder and Something To Prove when she started her college courses with non-Handicapped kids her age). Jarra has quickly become a leader and important figure, not only among her university classmates as their tag leader, but celebrated by people everywhere after playing an instrumental role in a daring rescue effort during her freshman year. Suffice it to say, Jarra has proven her smarts, leadership skills, and deep expertise in Earth history. Heck, by the end of Earth Girl, Jarra’s true family lineage has been revealed, and her masquerade as a military brat actually ends up to be truth as it turns out she’s a military Honor Child with a truly impressive, heroic lineage.
In Earth Star, Jarra is just getting back into the swing of her daily class-and-excavation routine at school when the unthinkable happens: both Jarra and her serious boyfriend Fian are called in by the military on a top secret mission that will alter the course of human history. A sphere of decidedly alien origins has been discovered floating over Earth, a quiet observer to life below. The military have no idea as to the intentions of the sphere, if the aliens aim to attack, or to make peaceful contact with humanity. As fate would have it, Jarra’s historical expertise is desperately needed in order to figure out how to handle this first contact event – the whole planet, especially the millions of other Handicapped who would not be able to portal away in the event of an alien incursion, depend on it.
The second book in the ongoing Earth Girl series, Earth Star is every bit as entertaining as its predecessor (if slightly less even-handed). The action and drama in this book refers to Earth’s eponymous new “star” – the alien sphere hovering above the planet, waiting silently for unknown purposes. This in itself is a pretty cool premise, loaded with questions, such as: Who sent the sphere and why? Did it arrive by via portal technology, or over the course of thousands of years of slow travel through the void? And, the most important question of them all – is the sphere a gesture of friendship, or a harbinger of war? Edwards does a wonderful job raising these questions and examining the different opinions for approaching the alien artifact, especially the more extremist and fearful reactions to this new alien presence. While the military’s automatic enlistment of two teenage undergraduates as officers (captains, no less!) is a little tough to swallow, I do like this future military operation in which scholars and different specialists are brought in to examine a first contact scenario from angles outside of the usual war tactical efforts. (And, to be fair, the military has its own reasons for enlisting Jarra and Fian that have little to do with their prowess as history students and more to do with their relationship and family status. But that is all I will say for fear of spoilers!)
While the premise and initial action is fantastic, however, Earth Star loses a bit of steam with its relatively loose plotting. From high-tension, top-secret mission to gather data, analyze, and approach the sphere, the novel shifts gears mid-book as Jarra and Fian finish their work on the project and are released back to their regular ol’ civilian student lives. Here the story lags, especially with its strange, discontinuous plotting choices (including a lovers spat that ends with someone dying by accident for… no reason that makes sense in the grand scheme of the book). By the novel’s end, the sphere (finally) starts doing some interesting stuff and Jarra figures out what humanity needs to do to make contact, which is fantastic… but the novel overall could have been much tighter and a better book.[1. On one other related note: in Earth Girl, I was frustrated with Jarra’s incredible quick turnaround fro PTSD break back to reality, and this happens again in book 2! After suffering a pretty debilitating injury and the psychological trauma of that injury in this book, she’s back in an impact suit in record time. Um, no.]
Plotting concerns aside, Earth Star does do a very nice job with characterizations, particularly for protagonist Jarra. While the Jarra in book one has a chip on her shoulder and a vendetta against the “regular” humans who can portal between worlds, in this second book she has grown into a more accepting, wiser person. She still deals with rampant xenophobia and discrimination because of her Handicap, but Jarra handles such prejudices with grace and courage. (Plus, it’s nice to see that thanks to Jarra, others are starting to understand and take steps towards ending discrimination against the Handicapped.) That’s not to say that Jarra is without a defining internal struggle in Earth Star; this time around, she is preoccupied with her feelings of inadequacy and her insecurity at being made a Captain (then a Major), given control of people more than twice her age and with established professional careers, and so on. Gradually, Jarra starts to understand her own strengths and gets the knack of managing others, but it’s a tough road to this self-realization (and I very much enjoyed and believed in Jarra’s internal strife getting to this point of acceptance).
And, while Jarra is written wonderfully, so too is the relationship between Jarra and Fian. Theirs is a relationship of mutual respect and deep friendship in addition to romantic love. Both characters are so funny and heartfelt in their actions towards each other, and it’s pretty cool to see the affection between the two – the best part is that their relationship is serious and considered without devolving into repeated cheesetastic declarations of eternal love. Jarra and Fian aren’t without their issues – particularly Jarra’s reluctance to reflect on emotions and Fian’s occasional jealousy – but they work through their baggage because they communicate and genuinely care for each other. How many fictional YA couples can say that?!
Overall, Earth Star is another captivating and wonderful entry in Jarra’s ongoing story. While the book is a tad uneven towards the middle, the book finishes with a (literal) blaze of glory, and I cannot wait for the next novel in the series.
Absolutely recommended – if you haven’t tried out this series yet, you should get on board immediately.
Rating: 7 – Very Good
Reading Next: Night Broken by Patricia Briggs
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