Title: Defy the Stars
Author: Claudia Gray
Genre: Sci-Fi, Young Adult
Page Count: 503
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Notable Notables: POC Protagonist
Recommended Readers: EVERYONE, especially fans of sci-fi and I, Robot
The more of Claudia Gray’s work I read, the more I like her. I’ve read her Star Wars book, Lost Stars, and that was pretty good, especially since it dealt a lot with the Empire and what it means to fight for or against them.
Defy the Stars is an unrelated, original novel, and it is worlds above everything I’ve read of her so far in terms of characters, plot, and world building. I absolutely adored this book from the first page on, and once I started, I couldn’t put it down for long.
Noemi Vidal is a native soldier of the planet Genesis, which has been at war with Earth and its mechanized soldiers for decades. She’s willing to do anything, even die, to ensure her planet remains free, but secretly she wishes to explore the galaxy beyond the Genesis Gate.
Abel is a mech from Earth, the only one of his kind, advanced beyond all the others. After his creator abandoned him, Abel did whatever he could to occupy himself while trapped alone on a dead ship, and as a result his programming has begun to evolve. His path collides with Noemi’s after she boards his ship to attempt to save a friend.
These two are sworn enemies, but Abel’s programming forces him to protect Noemi and follow her orders since she’s the highest ranking human commander in his presence. And he doesn’t like it, especially when Noemi hatches a plan that will strike against Earth’s forces and Abel’s creator in the process.
This book ticked so many boxes for me. Enemies forced to work together, check. Bodyguard trope, check. Enemies to friends to lovers, check. Robot learning emotions and struggling to cope with them, check. All the while, these things were delicately woven, building slowly, throughout a compelling and exciting adventure full of characters from different planets, all of them affected by the war and Earth’s degradation in their own ways.
That last part is very important. As Noemi witnesses how Earth has expelled certain people and Genesis officials refuse to admit them onto their planet, Noemi struggles with her faith, both in her religion and her culture, and what it means to be human if you won’t recognize when people need your help.
Claudia Gray offers a good commentary on the human condition that’s organic and feels thoughtful as opposed to heavy-handed. Not to mention, it’s well-timed given the current refugee crisis and the US’s poor reaction to accepting more refugees into the country. Gray’s choice to offer dual opinions from Noemi’s and Abel’s point of view only enriches the experience.
What I love most about Noemi and Abel in particular is that, while there is romance between them, it didn’t become their defining trait. Character is never sacrificed to make it work.
Instead, these characters remain rich and interesting all on their own. Offering some good POC representation, Noemi is smart and methodical in her thinking, but she knows when to act and is brave enough to do it. She takes a hard stance on her own moral code while seeking to understand and be compassionate towards others. Despite these wonderful traits, she actually doesn’t have a high opinion of herself, which is heartbreaking. I loved her instantly because aren’t we all a little like this? Enormously talented and unique yet feeling broken because we don’t think we’re good enough?
Meanwhile, Abel is brilliant, sarcastic, selfless, and deeply introspective. So much of his existence is tied to his creator, and the relationship Abel feels with him haunts every page as Abel seeks to be reunited with him. As a mech, too, he views himself as being innately expendable despite the fact that he is the sole model of his line. It hurts that both Abel and Noemi emphasize what they believe are the worst of themselves at times. What’s beautiful is they also notice the best of each other and wonder why the other doesn’t see it.
In short, I loved Defy the Stars because I got to watch two different characters go on their own personal journeys to discover who they are, what they believe in, what they’re willing to fight for, and how they’re willing to fight for it. I got to watch them be strong as individuals while recognizing each other’s worth and realizing that they themselves are worthy.
I desperately need the sequel because, as it so often does, the shit went down, and I need to know how this is going to get worse before it gets better. I need to know how intense the rebellion is going to become and to what end.
And I need to know how much more awesome Noemi and Abel are going to be because I adore them so.