Books

Book Review: Spinning Starlight

The second book by R.C. Lewis (aka my awesome mentor) is one I was really psyched to read. Whereas STITCHING SNOW is an adaptation of Snow White, SPINNING STARLIGHT is a retelling of “The Wild Swans” by Hans Christian Anderson. This lesser-known story is one of my favorites because, like “The Snow Queen”, it’s the rare fairy tale where the heroine saves the boys. In fact, I wrote a loose historical adaptation for workshop about a deaf suffragette. Revisiting the tale now, I’m a little more critical of its gender politics–refreshing as its depiction of female strength is, it’s still rooted in old ideas of female endurance (and silence)  vs. male action–but it’s still a really beautiful story with some extremely memorable imagery, and I’ve been really hoping for it to get more attention. A futuristic update involving intergalactic travel, quantum physics, and a seemingly spoiled heiress with more depth, brains, and nerve that meets the eye? Oh, stars, yes!

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Teenage heiress Liddi Jantzen is portrayed in the media as a party girl, but she’s due to inherit the most powerful tech corporation throughout all the Seven Points–despite the fact that, unlike her eight older brothers, she’s yet to make her debut as an inventing prodigy. But when a duplicitous employee abducts her brothers and traps them between the conduits that allow interplanetary travel, Liddi has to overcome not only her insecurities about living up to the Jantzen name, but a device implanted in her vocal cords and a threat to kill her brothers if she says a single word, to save her family. Fittingly, this seemingly impossible task requires a seemingly impossible solution: a portal to the believed-legendary Eighth Point, where she enlists the help of a diplomat named Tiav and learns far more about the true nature of the universe than she could have imagined.

Though they’re both sci-fi fairy tale retellings, this is not a sequel, or even really a companion novel (they take place in entirely different fictional universes), to STITCHING SNOW, not the way The Lunar Chronicles books are interconnected stories. It’s more of a spiritual successor, but even then, the books are actually quite different in several meaningful ways.

Courtney Eaton as Liddi Jantzen. The fancast of both books with actresses from Mad Max: Fury Road is not at all coincidental.

The most obvious difference is their respective heroines. Stitching Snow‘s Essie was a tough reluctant princess who preferred coding for mining drones or cage fighting to fine gowns or her (awful) father and stepmother, but Liddi is a society “It” girl who struggles to uphold the high-tech capabilities of her loving, but famously brilliant, family. But Liddi is more complex and competent than the paparazzi–or she herself–knows. (Which is a relief–can you fathom the existential horror of the fate of the universe depending on a Kylie Jenner?) What both books do have in common is a rather nifty brand of what I hereby call STEMinism: a focus on cool girl protagonists who are not just strong, but scientifically literate.

Seriously, THIS IS A REALLY GEEKY BOOK. I got away with not taking a Physics class since middle school, so I’ll admit I wouldn’t know too much about scientific accuracy, but the book’s incorporation of theoretical physics seemed fairly advanced for a non-“hard science fiction” work of popular media, and not just for YA. I found that pretty cool and (for me, somewhat surprisingly) enjoyable. Even more unexpected were what struck me as almost spiritual undertones mixed in with the science in the possibility of a living universe, which I found especially intriguing as a secular gal who’s greatly interested in different conceptions of the universe.

Arash Marandi as Tiav. Art credit: Arii Suzuki

Between the sympathetic heroine, cutting-edge science geek sensibilities, the very concept of a ((loose) sci-fi retelling of “The Wild Swans”, and especially the highly original world-building (a strength of Lewis’s first book, but this one one-ups its predecessor and then some in that department), there’s a lot to find unique and memorable here. But beyond sheer inventiveness, this is a successful character-driven story. Like its source material, it has a lot of heart. I think that’s awesome.

Also: “null-skull” is one of the best slang terms I’ve ever encountered in speculative fiction.

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