Review: Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci

Sunday, November 17, 2013
Title: Tin Star
Author: Cecil Castellucci
Genre: science fiction, space exploration, young adult
Series: N/A
Pages: 241 
Published: expected February 25 2014
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5/5

On their way to start a new life, Tula and her family travel on the Prairie Rose, a colony ship headed to a planet in the outer reaches of the galaxy. All is going well until the ship makes a stop at a remote space station, the Yertina Feray, and the colonist's leader, Brother Blue, beats Tula within an inch of her life. An alien, Heckleck, saves her and teaches her the ways of life on the space station.

When three humans crash land onto the station, Tula's desire for escape becomes irresistible, and her desire for companionship becomes unavoidable. But just as Tula begins to concoct a plan to get off the space station and kill Brother Blue, everything goes awry, and suddenly romance is the farthest thing from her mind.

All hail the wave of space-centered young adult science fiction. As the lovely Gillian called it earlier this year in September, this seems to be a new trend for YA novels. Cecil Castellucci's Tin Star kicks off this trend for me, and it was a inviting introduction. This quieter story about 14-year old Tula Bane, the abandoned Human on an unfriendly space station in a galazy far far away makes for a diverting, I'm-so-glad-this-could-never-happen-to-me kind of entertainment.

Tin Star is a shorter novel, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in sheer weird imagination. It makes for a quick read, with nondescript but adequate prose and a great hook. Tula's story takes a while to get going but eventually finds a solid pace and sticks with it. Her first person narration can come off as pretty flat at times, but when I considered she spent more than three years isolated in a hostile environment, well, I let that slide. Her unemotional approach  has worked in her favor and enabled her survival, but it won't endear her to all readers. She may not be labelled "likeable" but she is smart, cunning, and determined. She's admirable, and the way she scrounges a living where none expected her to survive clearly illustrates that.

The novel takes place in an unnamed future, where human space travel is possible and alien contact is nothing new. There is a somewhat confusing system governing the "Major Species" and the "Minor Species" as well as the "League of Worlds" and the way species can travel and settle on new worlds. It's all mentioned but never really explained. And while it's not like this is a novel where the plot hinges on believable science or credible worldbuilding to actually work, a more forthright way of explaining the function of these unexplained bodies would be helpful to picturing and understanding the story. It would have been especially nice when a larger portion of the later novel is devoted to a political coup that disrupts the lives of those on Yertina Fray.

There are wides swathes of this that I greatly enjoyed -- Tula, the small hints that added up to a big surprise, the various aliens Castellucci would create, Heckleck, Tournour -- but several areas were greatly lacking. The romance angle particularly was difficult to swallow. When Tula is torn between a Human boy and girl, as well as an alien, I had to roll my eyes. And it predominately all went down in the last quarter of the novel. It was too much too fast. I could understand Tula's curiousity about her own kind, but I wanted her to focus on her revenge, not on kissing Els and Reza. Happy endings with a partner aren't required and if I am reading a space story about a hard-edged girl, I don't really need to see her paired off to feel like the book ended well.

Speaking of, I felt that the ending is solid, if left open slightly. There is resolution and if the story is not complete, 100% sealed up, the reader could still walk away from Tin Star completely satisfied and without need for a sequel. However, the way the author ended it, there would be intriguing and original potential to continue exploring this world. A little more worldbuilding, a little less romance and there would be little to complain about here. As is, I will be curious to see what the author does from here.

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