*Spoiler Alert* After the first paragraph of this review I will talk about elements of the plot that might spoil things a little but will not spoil the ending *SpoilerAlert*
Princess Leonie Kolburg (don’t call her that. She hates being called that!) Or Leo for short is an eighteen year old heir to a faded legacy. She has the titles and the jewels but what she doesn’t have is the money. With a father and little sister splashing the cash around like its water, it is up to Leo to maintain their status and keep them in the luxury they have become accustom to. She has limited options. She either finds a way to create a sustained income with her resourcefulness or she marries someone wealthy. As the elite from the fleet of starships carrying the survivors of the now iced over Earth gather to offer up their sons and daughters in exchange for old world titles, money and political power, Leo finds herself running out of time to escape marriage. To add to her woes, her ex has turned up looking seriously fit and seriously successful. Will Leo fall in love with him all over again? Will some other eligible bachelor win her round? Or will she gain financial independence?
I really enjoyed this book. First of all we cannot escape that The Stars We Steal is a romantic comedy. There are comical situations and whole chapters that will make your heart race with love sick anticipation as you romp through the book. There was even one bit where I felt so broken hearted I wanted to put the book in the freezer and go play video games until my chest didn’t hurt anymore. So in that sense this is very much a love story.
However, when you look deeper you can see that Alexa Donne has written a rather complex novel. It has all the joy of a classic novel with the flare and style of soft contemporary sci-fi. It has a smattering of social and political themes that I think give this novel a lot of depth. It feels cleverly done. I’ve been told that it is based on Persuasion, which unfortunately is one of the Jane Austen books I haven’t read yet but it certainly has the spirit of an Austen novel. There were moments that made me think of Pride and Prejudice as I read through but I also felt a little bit like I was reading a YA Bridget Jones.
When it comes to the characters I think that nearly all of them have a lot of depth. I can completely understand the world, as a female, that Leo exists in. Again, it doesn’t matter how modern the world we are in seems there is still pressure to look a certain way and be a certain thing. This is something that Bridget Jones Diary did perfectly in the 90s. It showed the huge expectation that there is on women to be ‘Every woman’. Leo likewise has to deal with this sort of issue and that gives her character a lot of depth making her a protagonist that is easy to relate to. What is even better is that Donne gives Leo a sense of humour which makes her so likeable.
Other characters with depth include Leo’s wing woman, Evgenia Orlova who is charming and funny. She proves herself to be the life and soul of the party whilst also looking for her dream woman. She is also a flawed character as she does occasionally have a biting remark to share and when it all gets too much she drowns her woes in alcohol. Carina, Leo’s little sister, while definitely the most free of responsibility in the book suffers from the pressures of society much like the others. She is a bit of fantasist but deeply loves her sibling. Klara, Leo’s cousin is the upper class bitch with a heart while Elliot, Leo’s ex is a whole world of complicated.
Leo is trying to be good on so many sides. Be a good daughter, sister, royal, and woman as well as struggling to be morally good. She is stuck in a situation where class tensions are seeping into everyday life. There is a very obvious gap between the haves and the have nots. She wants to do the right thing but knows her family rely on her for their survival. She can’t risk their safety with social ideals that they have never understood. The social hierarchy that she is part of would never allow her to make any social reform anyway. It is a guilt she carries round with her as she bustles on with life.
What I also enjoyed in this book is that the writer hasn’t backed away from including some queer representation but also hasn’t slipped it in as though the future is going to be a tolerant utopia. Same-sex pairs, although perfectly acceptable still cause a few raised eyebrows or scandalised looks. There is an asexual character who isn’t comfortable being open about his sexuality, mainly because of his elite status. This, I feel, was done right. How much progress will we make with our attitudes in the next 200 years is not set in stone. Today it is a fairly new thing for Royal figures and political leaders to be openly gay, lesbian or Trans. In some parts of the world we are seeing an active move to try and stop or reverse the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. The fight for equality is something that is hard to predict.
The thing I loved most about this book is that despite the young people in this book taking part in this social ritual that forces them to try and find a partner it is called The Valg, which roughly translates in to choice it states in the text. That is the irony of the whole thing. So few of these characters actually have the luxury of free choice.
They are stuck on ships in space because of an Ice age on their home planet of Earth. There is no social mobility, no political movement, a horrible class divide and ridiculous rules and regulations to live by. The characters live in a world that is corset tight.
As much as on the surface this book seems as if it is just a funny romantic sci-fi novel I think that Alexa Donne has given this book a wonderful dose of the style of Jane Austen in that it really does reflect the social and political backdrop the writer herself is living through.