Saturday, August 08, 2015

Book Review: Starglass by Phoebe North

Book: Starglass
Author: Phoebe North
Published: 2013
Source: Local Library

Terra's world is bounded to a single spaceship, the Asherah. It's been that way since she was born, and her mother, and her mother's mother back through generations since they left the dying Earth to travel to their new home of Zehava. Her life is laid out in a similarly confined way. At sixteen, she will take the job that the ruling Council has chosen for her, she will marry before the age of eighteen, and she will have her requisite two children in her early twenties.

But unlike her ancestors, Terra will land on Zehava. As she approaches adulthood, and as the Asherah approaches its final destination, she begins to realize that life is not nearly so simple as doing what you're told when you're told to do it. She gets involved with the Children of Abel, a rebel group seeking to overthrow the system, but she has her doubts about their motives and their methods.

The Council has one idea about life on Zehavah, and the Children of Abel have another. Somewhere in the middle is Terra's - but what exactly is it?

This is a doorstop of a book, but I didn't want to put it down. Terra's world and her narration were completely compelling. Sometimes it's hard to put up with Terra herself. She seems naive, self-centered, often clueless about the motives and emotions of others or the political system that rules her world. And there are also times when she willingly keeps her blinders on, going along with what's expected because it's easy, trying to be a good Asherite because it's too hard to swim upstream. These things also make her tremendously real and sympathetic, and made me willing to see how she was going to change and grow.

On starting this, I worried that we would have the inevitable love triangle. And we do . . . but at the same time we don't. There are two, and neither of them are quite standard. Koen, the boy Terra has agreed to marry, is in love with Van, another man, and both of them are Children of Abel. But same-sex marriages don't exist on the Asherah, so he's settling for Terra (who, to be fair, is settling for him). There's also Silvan, in line to be the next captain, who is arrogant and spoiled but also exciting and tempting. Terra doesn't love him either, but at least he evokes a reaction. But it makes things complicated that he once dated and dumped her best friend, who has never gotten over him. And then, of course, there's the one she's told nobody about - the mysterious boy in her dreams of the new planet. I appreciated the complexity of these relationships (well, except the last one, which seems more like wishful thinking than anything) and how Terra's feelings toward them were more about trying to be in love than actually being.

One of the other things that sets this book apart is the culture aboard the Asherah. Besides the standard, regimented dystopian system, the customs and language of the ship draw on cultural Judaism. Religion and faith, at least as far as God is concerned, seemed to have disappeared but ideas remain, like tikkun olan (the responsiblity of humanity to heal the world) or mitzvot (used in the sense of duties or good deeds in this book, but a minor Google search tells me is really more related to God's commandments).  Not being Jewish myself, I suspect I'm missing the subtleties and would love to talk this book over with somebody who knows both the culture and the faith.

A complicated, sophisticated sci-fi dystopia with a complex main character, suitable for those already into the genre.

1 comment:

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

How neat that the religious culture draws from Judaism. I can't think of the last speculative fiction book I read that dealt with Judaism at all -- or rather, I can, but it's Jane Yolen's Briar Rose and I read it before I started menstruating, and that was a long damn time ago.