tin star

Monday, March 17, 2014 |
Cecil Castellucci’s Tin Star was one of my Waiting on Wednesday picks last fall because it looked like an interesting young adult science fiction novel (YA sci-fi is one of my delicious weaknesses).  But even more than that, it sounded like a unicorn of YA: a book that didn’t rely on romance as its central plot point.  That kind of story seems to be increasingly rare, so I try to take careful note when one pops up.  Well everyone, it should come as no surprise that I loved Tin Star.  Even given months of anticipation and high hopes, I fell for everything about it.

tin star by cecil castellucci book cover
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.

Tula Bane has been beaten and left for dead on a remote space station.  She’s the only Human on the Yertina Feray, a station orbiting an abandoned mining outpost on the fringes of the universe.  In order to survive, she must adapt, and quickly.  Through sheer determination she forges a kind of half-life for herself, and even makes a friend of the alien Heckleck.  Then three Humans crash land and disturb the balance of life on the station.  Tula must again scramble for survival, and decide how far she will go to get revenge.

What is a victim?  It is someone without options.  Tula Bane is a great survivor, and she refuses to be a victim.  Yes, terrible things happened to her.  But her will to continue living, and her innate honor, combined with that great Human trait of adaptability, allow her to create a life where she should by rights have died.  Tula is a smart dealmaker, filled with hate (and then, when that is mostly burnt out, stubbornness), and lonely beyond belief.  It is inspiring, and a little heartbreaking, to read about her.  She’s an unforgettable, complex, difficult person, and I cared about her an immense amount.

Of course, an important element of any work of science fiction is the… science fiction.  It must hold together, and the best worldbuilding (universe building?) will become the seamless background for a great story.  That is the case with Tin Star.  I felt almost awed at times by Castellucci’s writing.  I took photos of pages with my phone camera, in too much of a hurry to stop and transcribe a quote, but desperate for a record of the page so I could go back and soak in the words later.  Here is an example, from page 47:

“He never talked about what had stranded him here, and I could read that it was a deep wound—likely as deep as mine.  Betrayal and grief have a certain color no matter what the species is.  Everyone in the underguts seemed to carry that color with them in their voice or walk or hunch.”

As I said, I loved this book.  I loved its dark, almost bleak tone (in part because Tula is so alone, and in part because the Yertina Feray is so isolated in space).  The complex bartering system, shifting alliances, unusual alien species, and politics all fascinated me.  The plot was fairly twisty – there were turns I saw coming, and others that caught me by surprise.  The romantic element was understated but interesting for all that.  Tin Star was a gritty, balance-on-the-edge-of-your-seat kind of book, and it made a place for itself in my heart.

Recommended for: anyone who can imagine a cross between Garth Nix and Sharon Shinn, fans of intelligent sci-fi and survival stories, and those who have dreamed of what life might really be like in space.

Fine print: I received a copy of the book for honest review from the author/publisher.  I did not receive any compensation for posting this review.


Kristen said...

I really loved this one as well. I'm not always the biggest sci fi fan, but I fell in love with Tula and her universe.

Liviania said...

I really loved the whole idea of the underguts - a society stuck on the station, creating a civilization from the little they have.

Anonymous said...

Just an off the cuff comment--have you noticed all the dragonfly covers lately? The Inventor's Secret has to be the third or fourth I've seen for this year . . .

KC said...

Besides this amazing cover, this is definitely a book I'd look into. I'm always glad to find YA books that don't rely totally on romance.

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