YA Book Review: if Jane Austen Wrote a Sci-fi Novel

The Stars We StealThe Stars We Steal by Alexa Donne

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thank you, HMH Teen, for giving me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I don’t know you at all anymore. And I don’t care to. — Leo

Do you like the idea of girls vying for the affections of a rich bachelor? This phenomenon was common during the patriarchal time of Jane Austen, but it’s still relevant today. Otherwise, shows like The Bachelorette or books like The Selection wouldn’t exist. I studied the latter series for my undergraduate thesis, so I was intrigued by the premise of bringing all of that drama to space. High five if you also love space operas!

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The Stars We Steal features a world wherein Earth is no longer habitable. Because of an environmental disaster, people from every continent have evacuated to space. But instead of living on another planet, they stay on their respective spaceships and begin their lives anew. Americans call their vessel the Lady Liberty, while the British name theirs the Empire.

Leo Kolburg, the heroine, is a German princess and heir to an old European spaceship. She resides on the Scandinavian with her father and sister. The Kolburgs are almost bankrupt, and Leo takes on the burden to save their family from destitution. Sadly, marrying into a wealthy family might be her only option. When the matchmaking season starts, Leo is shocked when she discovers that one of her prospects is Eliot Wentworth, her ex-fiance. Worse, the bespectacled bachelor wants to exact revenge on her.

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At first, reading this book was a lot of fun. Although there were some cliches here and there, the story was generally entertaining. However, I strongly disliked Eliot to the point that I understood why Leo had dumped him in the first place. I didn’t care that both of us would rather read a book than go swimming; his hot-and-then-cold demeanor always annoyed me. Naturally, my negative thoughts about him affected my opinion of Leo, who couldn’t get over him in spite of all the better men around her. Leo was empowered enough to create a water filtration system for their spaceship, so why wasn’t she strong enough to move on?

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Nonetheless, Leo was aware of her flaws. She scolded herself for taking pleasure in her flirty sister’s pain and pining over a vengeful (and very suspicious) boy. How could I be frustrated with someone who was already frustrated with herself? Haha. Still, it was amazing how Leo forgave Eliot for openly flirting with her cousin and sister out of spite. I’m not sure if girls in real life would be willing to do the same. Considering the popularity of feminism, probably not. Girls today usually hate fighting over boys because doing so encourages toxic masculinity.

The main antagonist was too selfish to be trounced. This, in turn, made the ending too convenient to be believable. I know that happy endings are products of wishful thinking, but they should at least be logical. How can such a cunning and relentless dictator end up in prison so quickly? Perhaps the book would be better if it had an open conclusion.

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To be fair, this book had a fascinating setting. I loved that each ship was a like nation in itself. If you wanted to visit a particular vessel, you would have to get a visa first. Moreover, although the spaceships had different leaders and social classes, they had to rely on each other to survive. This resulted in much political tension, which I mostly enjoyed as a member of the middle class.

As a whole, The Stars We Steal was equally fun and stressful to read. You should read this book in February 2020 if you love Kiera Cass and Beth Revis. If some of its themes sound outdated, remember that it’s a close retelling of Persuasion, a semi-historical novel. The author probably retained some tropes (e.g., mean boys and marriage-driven girls) because she wanted to be loyal to the source material.