Audiobook Review: Stars and Bones by Gareth L. Powell

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From the multi BSFA award-winner comes a stunningly inventive action-packed science-fiction epic adventure. A brand-new series for fans of Becky Chambers and Ann Leckie.

Seventy-five years from today, the human race has been cast from a dying Earth to wander the stars in a vast fleet of arks—each shaped by its inhabitants into a diverse and fascinating new environment, with its own rules and eccentricities.

When her sister disappears while responding to a mysterious alien distress call, Eryn insists on being part of the crew sent to look for her. What she discovers on Candidate-623 is both terrifying and deadly. When the threat follows her back to the fleet and people start dying, she is tasked with seeking out a legendary recluse who may just hold the key to humanity’s survival. 

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I don’t usually go for hard sci-fi books but I’m slowly getting intrigued by the space opera style books and I was immediately interested when I first got to know about this book. I’ve just been waiting since then to find the right time to begin. And it turned out to be something quite unexpected.

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I’m usually in it for the characters – I can tolerate anything in a book as long as I can love the characters (atleast a few of them). But it was just the opposite in this one. I completely fell in love with the setting and the ideas that form the core of this story. The author has written a world where humanity now lives on huge spaceships called arks created by super intelligent aliens called Angels of Benevolence. Each of these arks is like a world of its own – artificially created landscapes as preferred by the residents, a culture and way of living which is unique to the ark, the shape of the ark itself is molded based on its resident’s vision and purpose, and the ark’s consciousness creates blue colored envoys who are most representative of the ark. I reveled in getting to know each of the ark’s quirks better as the characters kept visiting them and I just wanted to know more. And considering that the life on the arks essentially is a post-capitalist utopia, it was both surprising and not to see that some people have still banded together to fight this collective society and want to keep up with the classist and capitalist systems of old. I guess it is a critique of humankind as a whole that even if humans move away from earth and have to live a very different kind of life, it’s not easy to forget the prejudices and bigotry that they have been carrying for ever.

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The plot itself though was engaging enough. There’s quite a bit of action and many chapters end in cliffhangers, so I always wanted to know what was gonna happen next. I’ve read some complaints that there were issues regarding the science and sci-fi elements of the story but I’m not someone who knows much about all this stuff, so I didn’t find any such problems. However, I did feel that there were many things which were unrealistic, even for an action packed futuristic story. The dialogue was fun and interesting and even philosophical at times which I enjoyed, but the internal monologue of the main character felt a bit too much at times.

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The main character Eryn is someone I sympathized with because she has suffered many losses and I could understand she was traumatized. But there was just something off about her which I can’t articulate. Her character seemed so inconsistent, even in her own thoughts, and I didn’t know what to make of it. She was also written like an old school stereotypical YA heroine who is an ordinary person thrust into chaos and suddenly has to save humanity from annihilation. Her nostalgic and misplaced grieving thoughts about her one night stand 15 years ago who was a cheater, her thinking one moment that she doesn’t know how to be a parent to her teenage niece and then a few days later thinking that she can apply the lessons that she learnt from parenting a teenager to solve an existential threat to humanity – getting a deep dive in her POV just didn’t endear me to her.

There are many side characters and we even get a few POVs but there were very few who left a lasting impression. I mostly adored Ocelot, who is the envoy of Eryn’s scout ship’s consciousness. He was witty and kind and compassionate and so loyal to those he has to protect. There were quite a few other ark envoys who made small appearances but were intriguing. It was the humans who were not so impressive. Firstly, the author kills a lot of people throughout the book, so many characters couldn’t even get any development. Among the living, Frank is a typical genius scientist who loves his research but doesn’t care for much else, Maddie is a typical teenager who is grieving and hurt and hates her remaining family and Li pretty much exists as a love interest and no other development of her own. Even the romantic arc between Eryn and Li felt a bit forced. But among the unknown, I have to say that the angels who saved humanity but seemed too indifferent with what humans did with this second chance were fascinating to read about; and the unknown alien entity hellbent on destroying everything was also very well written and I loved getting to know it’s story.

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On the whole, I’m having very mixed thoughts about this book. If you are someone who can appreciate the setting and the ideas and concepts the author is going for and like some fast paced action, maybe you’ll like this. But I would say maybe don’t go for this if you like character focused stories. But I think I’m impressed enough with this world that I might give the sequel a try, though it probably won’t be at the top of my awaiting list.

5 star
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