YA Review: Satellite by Nick Lake

The Premise: Leo, Libra and Orion are counting down to the day they can go home. Of course, having been born and raised on a spaceship, they haven’t ever actually been ‘home’ to Earth, so it’s a complicated situation made more so by government secrets, unexpected twists and messy family relationships.

Why you should read it: Satellite is an excellent YA sci-fi, with emphasis on the ‘sci’ part. The beginning, with the action set on board the spaceship, is hugely detailed without ever becoming too much. I’m no scientist and I can’t pretend to have understood all the science exposition, but I was never less than intrigued by it. The story develops superbly too; I was worried that I’d lose interest once the action moved Earthwards, but Lake’s plot is twisty and turny enough to keep any reader enthralled. I lap up space-set novels anyway, but I was no less interested when the setting became more familiar. 

There are lots of absorbing elements to the plot, my favourite of which was the complex family dynamic between Leo and his astronaut mother and retired astronaut grandfather. There’s so much bubbling beneath the surface in these relationships that I was very much intrigued. 

And, once again, space. SPACE! 

Be warned: the narrative, from Leo’s PoV, is written in a sort-of text-speak, without certain punctuation marks and with abbreviations like “c” for “see”. To begin with, I will admit to having found it quite irritating (I’m an English teacher, okay? It’s in my nature to want to add capital letters), but stumbling across a blog in which Lake explained his decision along with his predictions for the future of punctuation helped me to accept it as a necessary part of the narrative. So don’t be put off by the style: if I can deal with it, I reckon you can too.

Read this if you liked: The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James, Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman

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YA Review: Flight of a Starling by Lisa Heathfield

flight of a starling.jpgThe Premise: Lo and Rita are sisters, raised in the family circus; they never stay in one town for more than a few days, so their family is all they have. They’ll marry into the circus, keep performing for their whole lives: until Lo meets a boy whose life is entirely separate from everything she knows and she begins to question what she really wants.

Thoughts: Lisa Heathfield is a superb writer of YA novels; her previous works, Seed (about teens trapped in a cult) and Paper Butterflies (a heartbreaking story of abuse) both caused me to have the kind of emotions that you want to avoid experiencing in any kind of public space. Heathfield knows exactly how to construct a beautiful, touching and deceptively simple story in order to pull on the heartstrings of her readers and Flight of a Starling is no different.

I’m fascinated by stories set in circuses or involving performers, from Angela Carter’s novels to Nights at the Circus and The Lonely Hearts Hotel, and Flight of a Starling is a worthy addition to the list. The descriptions of the day-to-day life of the circus, as well as the performances and performers, are exquisitely detailed, creating a strong image for the reader. The relationships between the characters in the circus, centring on Lo and Rita but also their bonds with their parents, grandfather and friends are compelling and absorbing; it’s a relatively short book and only took me a few hours to red, but I still felt immersed in the story.

Like Kate Ling’s excellent The Loneliness of Distant Beings, Flight of a Starling explores the idea of a life predetermined by the choices of your parents, and even their parents before them; while Ling’s characters railed against living their whole lives enclosed in a spaceship, Lo comes to question whether she wants to spend her whole life in the circus, a feeling that springs from meeting Dean. Their romance is sweet and lacking in overblown melodrama; it shows Lo seeking a more ‘normal’ life, even the like of which others might try to escape.

In Conclusion: Lisa Heathfield should feature in any discussion of top YA writers; Flight of a Starling is yet another assured, emotive and well-executed narrative that packs a punch. I feel like it’s a story that will stay with me.

Review: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

three-dark-crownsThe Premise: on a weird island, every generation triplet queens are born. They have magic powers and stuff, and are taken in by different communities according to their ability. Their mum disappears to pilates or something. When they come of age, the three sister queens have to FIGHT TO THE DEATH for the right to be the actual queen. Whatever happened to sharing, hmm? In this instance, it’s Katherine, Arsinoe and Mirabella who are lined up for the Sister Death Match. One can eat poison. One can control the elements. The other one complains a lot.

Happy Bookworm: There were lots of things about Three Dark Crowns that I liked. The whole premise really appealed to me (not in a “I’d like to destroy my sister” way, just to be clear; aside from anything else, my sister would wipe the floor with me); it’s very dark and vicious, with some very gruesome events. I liked the idea of each sister being raised according to her power, with the whole population of the island stoking the flames of the rivalry between them. I was also excited about the prospect of such a female-dominated story; aside from the three sisters, there’s an extensive cast of surrogate mothers, friends and servants to add to the story.
Without actually giving it away, the book also has an extremely good ending. So, there’s that.

Sad Bookworm: Hmm. The thing is, you can have a brilliant and exciting premise, but, if the execution is dull and plodding, all that feverish anticipation will be lost, and that’s what happened here. Splitting the narrative between the three sisters makes complete sense, but it means you never really get sufficiently absorbed in any of them. And while the massive cast of characters gives the book variety, it also makes it very confusing, and the focus is occasionally bizarre; for example, Arsinoe’s best friend, Jules, is far more interesting than the queen and is given a lot more character development. Although she has a lot of romance nonsense going on and that whole aspect to this book was pretty boring.
I would also have liked to have seen a bit more focus on the whole “sisters being forced to massacre each other” thing. Although they’ve been brought up separately and barely know each other, surely sisterly ties should count for something when it comes to complicating your murderous feelings? I felt like this was a missed opportunity.

In Conclusion: Three Dark Crowns was not quite as good as I hoped it would be. Although it makes me sound like a sociopath, I think a dark premise needs a darker execution, and too much of this book was just spent with people sitting around before anyone fought with a bear or did a fire dance (actual plot events). If I’m going to commit to reading a sequel, I will want guarantees of action and carnage, please.