Friday, May 26, 2017

Starflight (Melissa Landers)

(The Starflight series, Book 1)
Melissa Landers
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Eighteen-year-old Solara knows she has no future on overcrowded Earth; her parents abandoned her at an orphanage, leaving her with no money or connections for the few available jobs, and the felon tattoos on her knuckles make her prospects even worse. In the outer realms, the frontier of terraformed worlds (conveniently beyond the reach of the Solar League law enforcement), her engineering prowess should make her invaluable - but transportation isn't cheap. She must indenture herself to a wealthy passenger traveling offworld. Unfortunately, the only one willing to take her on as a servant is Doran, spoiled son of the Spaulding interplanetary fuel empire, with whom she's had a personal rivalry ever since she got a scholarship to his elite academy. Doran treats her worse than a dog, making her wait on him and his pink-haired socialite girlfriend hand and foot. When he goes too far, threatening to dump her at a refueling stop (where her only option to afford another flight would likely be in the station bordello), Solara takes matters into her own hands with a personal stunner - but things only get worse as they find themselves aboard the Banshee, a ship of dubious legitimacy, among an eccentric crew full of secrets, not to mention enemies.

REVIEW: I wanted to like this book. (I actually want to like every book I read, but this one in particular had numerous good ratings that had my hopes up.) Parts of it were enjoyable. Ultimately, though, it just doesn't quite come together right. Solara's a tough girl, raised an orphan, used to seeing the worst in people and relying on her own wits and skills - except when she doesn't. Doran, especially early on, is borderline sadistic in his contempt for inferiors, a category that includes everyone in the galaxy save his father and his constantly-rotating current girlfriend - but, really, his life is built on insecurities and trauma. The crew is almost textbook "eccentric co-star" material, particularly the captain, who is more artificial than organic after a century or so of life on the run. There's even a useless-but-cute ship mascot, Acorn the sugar glider (which is inexplicably called a "sugar bear" at least half the time, in what I can only think is a glaring editing error.) Characters often act too immaturely given their age and experiences, and growth rarely feels organic as Solara and Doran lurch through very expected changes in their relationship; it's no spoiler or surprise that their rivalry doesn't last to the end of the book. For that matter, several of the plot twists telegraph themselves, often with an air of plot-required inevitability. One major twist toward the end (which I saw coming several light-years away) almost had me put the book down: was I really expected to swallow that stale old chestnut? The whole space/future milieu failed to convince me, full of strange idiosyncrasies and inconsistencies; the attitudes are far too modern, for instance, as is the majority of the slang. Then there's the wrap-up, the kind of scene where everyone smiles while the screen freezes and closing credits roll. Yes, by then the book had stopped feeling like an adventurous space yarn, or even an exploration of two teens growing up under extreme conditions, and took on the air of a somewhat shaky pilot episode for a TV series. (The Disney-Hyperion publisher makes me wonder if there aren't plans along those lines in the works...) There were some decent bits, and not everything felt contrived or forced, but ultimately I just didn't enjoy it it, and I doubt I'll remember it for long.

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