Premise: Carys and Max float in space, adrift from their ship, with just 90 minutes of air left. All seems hopeless. The only thing they can do is reflect on the relationship that led them here and the world that pushed them together.
Thoughts: firstly, I thought this was YA and it quite clearly isn’t. Aside from anything else, the main characters are 25 and 27. If that’s young adult, that makes me feel quite youthful. Hold Back the Stars appears on a lot of ‘other customers bought this’ lists when you scroll through new YA books on Amazon, which is how it caught me out. Just so you know.
Anyway, aside from my genre-based confusion, there was loads for me to enjoy here. I love space-set stories, so the alternating chapters focusing on Carys and Max’s increasingly doomed plight really grabbed me. Khan creates a genuine sense of peril and fear in these sections, which kept me quite enthralled. The other thing I loved in this book was the creation of an actually-pretty-believable futuristic society. In the novel’s present, America and the Middle East have destroyed each other, and the remaining countries have united to prevent conflict from causing such horror again. The main philosophy is that nobody is allied to a particular nation; from childhood, everyone goes “on rotation,” spending three years at a time in different territories. It’s isolating and disorienting, but it keeps focus on the individual, and individuals are less likely to cause mass destruction ( although the book may become more and more relevant in real life, thanks to recent political developments…). I was fascinated with the world Khan has created; it’s just out there enough to dazzle, but seems oddly sensible when you think about it.
The issue with all this is love, of course; moving every three years means you can’t develop a relationship, which is the whole point. The Man does not want people settling down until they’re 35, which causes a problem for Max and Carys; there’s a bit of a Never Let Me Go vibe to the middle part of the book, which is no bad thing. Overall, the romance aspect of the book engaged me less than the politics, but Carys and Max are both believable and interesting: people with whom I was happy to spend a few hours’ reading time.
In Conclusion: I really enjoyed Hold Back the Stars; it’s the kind of space-set story I seek out and it works well as a kind of grown-up older sibling to Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner’s Starbound trilogy, which I also love. Khan has created a genuinely fascinating world with enthralling plot twists and relationships to root for. I really recommend it.