Review of Stars Beyond by S.K. Dunstall
by S.K. Dunstall
Turns out I remembered almost nothing of Stars Uncharted, the first book in this series (duology?). As I began Stars Beyond, very little of the overall story came back to me. I contemplated re-reading Stars Unchartd, but by that point I was 50 pages in and felt committed. Fortunately, as I forged onwards, the plot of this volume cohered into something pretty easy to follow. Or should I say … plots? Because, upon re-reading my review of the first book, it turns out my criticisms apply largely to this sequel: too many characters competing for too many goals.
Stars Beyond picks up where the first book left off. Captain Roystan and his small but plucky crew are very close to unlocking the location of a treasure trove of transurides, rare elements much coveted across the galaxy. But they have enemies on their trail: corrupt agents of the Justice Department, a company executive who is unhappy his pet assassin botched the job, and people who want to talk to Nika Rik Terri, the hotshot body modder who has found herself pat of Roystan’s crew. From pretty much page one, everyone is up to something, in trouble, and moving. I will say this for S.K. Dunstall: they know how to keep the book going at a nice pace!
Epic action sequences aside, time and again I came back to this problem: Stars Uncharted has no clear protagonist. Everyone wants something a little different, and while some people could be natural allies, the book flits between various groups such that I can’t tell exactly whom I should care about most. Alistair and Cam? Nika and Snow? Josune or Roystan? (Certainly not Wickmore, of course!) This is not Game of Thrones where we aren’t supposed to be cheering for any character, really. But is it possible for me to root for them all?
Which brings me to my second issue: the ending feels very contrived. I’m not going to spoil it. I just want to say that everything comes together in such a nice, fitted way. Each of the candidates for protagonists mentioned above gets, if not exactly what they want, some kind of satisfaction. This is … boring. Dunstall throw numerous obstacles in the way of the main characters throughout the book—oh, we took Roystan out of the machine too early; oh, we don’t have the right genemod machine; oh, I can’t track down Nika Rik Teri—and so on. Yet these obstacles are small potatoes compared to the larger plot, which decides to resolve itself without much strenuous participation from any of the potential protagonists, it seems.
At least with the first book, I had my criticisms but I could genuinely say I liked it. This book bored me more than I want to admit, given how much I know I enjoyed Dunstall’s first science fiction series. I wish I could praise this series equally as much. But the confoundingly boring cast of characters combined with the lack of support for the supposed high stakes of the plot just leaves me shaking my head.