Title: Defy the Stars
Author : Claudia Gray
Publisher : Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release date : April 4th, 2017
Rating : 3.7/5
Synopsis (from Goodreads) :
Noemi Vidal is a teen soldier from the planet Genesis, once a colony of Earth that’s now at war for its independence. The humans of Genesis have fought Earth’s robotic “mech” armies for decades with no end in sight.
After a surprise attack, Noemi finds herself stranded in space on an abandoned ship where she meets Abel, the most sophisticated mech prototype ever made. One who should be her enemy. But Abel’s programming forces him to obey Noemi as his commander, which means he has to help her save Genesis–even though her plan to win the war will kill him.
Together they embark on a daring voyage through the galaxy. Before long, Noemi begins to realize Abel may be more than a machine, and, for his part, Abel’s devotion to Noemi is no longer just a matter of programming.
I had high expectations for Defy the Stars, among other things because Claudia Gray’s Firebird series was such a hit. In spite of the fact that it checked off some of my expectations, I still feel it fell a bit flat. But let’s start with the positive!
First of all, as the summary suggests, romance is one of the centerpieces of this novel. As a reader who’s been through too many failed romance plots, I was cautious and prepared for the worst. However, I was soooo pleasantly surprised when I realized that… hey, it develops at a slow, realistic and romantic way! The romance wasn’t rushed, nor did I find any trace of insta-love. On the contrary, Abel and Noemi didn’t like each other at first. Considering they’re on opposite sides, it’s understandable that they completely distrust each other, even when it is clear that Abel’s programming forces him to obey the “highest authority on the ship”. One of the highlights of the romance was, ironically, the subtlety of it. There was a good buildup to the romance, but it never takes too much space, nor does it ask for 15 minutes of fame. One of my friends told me once that he thought too many authors are unable to properly include romance without slowing down the entire storyline. Therefore, Gray did a pretty good job with Defy the Stars in terms of a love story. Which was actually adorable, by the way.
But the romance is Noemi’s and Abel’s dynamic as a duo. Unfortunately, as individuals, I wasn’t very invested. Don’t get me wrong; they aren’t annoying, or anything. They both have honorable qualities, and their banter is often enjoyable, but they just didn’t stimulate me enough. I had close to no reaction whatsoever about them.
Noemi is a good-hearted, selfless person. Her reputation is one of a bad-tempered and unpleasant young woman, but as a reader, I learnt that she’s quite bright and loyal. She’s also an incredibly brave and strong person, especially after what happens at the beginning of the book.
Abel, for his part, is an AI. But I thought his mind wasn’t robotic enough? I’m not saying that’s a character flaw, more like a writing flaw. To indicate he’s, after all, a robot, Gray adds in big numbers and calculations, and conscious thoughts about his difference to humans. Yet, the flow of his thoughts, the cadence and the rhythm are too human. The summary suggests he may be more than just a robot, but I guess I assumed this information would only affect the content of his thoughts, not the way they circulate. Be that as it may, as my reading progressed, I did get the sense that he became more human than before. I just wish I could have noticed a bigger development, instead of his being too human from the beginning.
The pace is good, and the plot didn’t leave room for dull moments. But I’m disappointed at the lack of “awe” I got from Gray’s world. Considering that it’s set in space, where possibilities abound, I expected more of a Wow Factor. We’re talking about whole new worlds, here! But maybe it was the goal, who knows? To showcase the Loop’s misery and desperation to find other planets to colonize. Still, I wonder what kind of research did Gray do? It seems like she touches a lot of subjects, from medicine to mechanics. She also included a lot of diversity (as we’re talking about Earthlings in general). Noemi herself has Chilean ancestry.
Throughout the story, there’s the recurrent theme of what it means to be human. I often see this theme, but I think it’s particularly relevant in Abel’s case, as his humanity and his “robocity” (?) are questioned. And it was amazingly well-handled, because I’m thoroughly convinced. There are other important themes, such as the environment and protecting our world, patriotism and following one’s path. It wasn’t a particularly remarkable story; it was blander than I expected from an intergalactic novel. But I admire the moral dilemmas highlighted in this book, and although the characters don’t always have the same values, they still help each other based on individuality.
Although my rating isn’t very good, I’m still looking forward to reading the sequel because the plot, in general, is interesting, and I want to follow the development, as it is still crucially relevant to our days.