Book Summary of The Last Celestials by Becca Mionis
A defeated general. A jaded princess. A really awkward situation.
Orion and Cassiopeia are the last of their kind: an ancient, powerful race of space-dwelling beings known as Celestials. After losing a terrible war against another, deadlier race, Orion appeals to Cassiopeia, hoping she’ll help him save their species. After all, he’s a male, she’s a female… This shouldn’t be complicated, right? Wrong!
Cassiopeia, who has been living like a recluse for centuries, wants absolutely nothing to do with Orion. And not just because he has no manners; there are things she doesn’t want him to know, secrets that drove her to self-exile. So she does the only logical thing she can think of: She runs away to Earth, where she allies herself with a group of young musicians and adopts their easygoing way of life in order to blend in. It’s the perfect hiding place, right? Wrong!
Little does Cassiopeia know, Orion is way better at tracking than he is at romance… though he may have to become good at both if he wants a second chance.
Well, here it is—my first ever ARC review. I’m really excited to be doing this, and that it’s the debut novel of book blogger and YouTuber, now author, Becca Mionis. Becca, at Words and Other Malarky, has been putting out quality reading and writing content for years and it’s been really neat to see her building skills and pursuing her dream of published authorship until it’s now a reality! (Or it will officially be on February 14th, anyway. Pre-orders available! Links at the end.) I will try and do this review without spoilers, but I’m also bad at identifying a spoilers so I can’t make promises.
So: the book. It’s billed as cute romance, soft sci-fi and that is, indeed, what it is. The Celestials in question are Cassiopeia and Orion, and they are, per the title, the very last of their kind, after a war with another race known as Campions. The Campions are a hive mind of drones essentially, and when Orion encounters Campions who don’t attack in predictable patterns, he sees it as an anomaly. My question is, if the Campions are so predictable, how did they obliterate the more ingenious Celestials? It is mentioned that the Celestials were taken by surprise, crippled by disorganisation, and defeated through their own division, but on some specific level I want to know how, though?
Part of the answer is revealed as hints of the characters’ backstory are seeded throughout the story. I think the reveal was really well done, as what we (and Orion) are led to think in the beginning about Cassiopeia’s motive for her behaviour gets completely flipped, and yet still perfectly fitting in hindsight with how she acts. Though the near-end scene bringing conclusion to this element of the Celestial Campion dynamic seems a bit disconnected, there is a reason for there not being quite as much emphasis on that aspect of the conclusion: because it’s not really the final conclusion. That’s just the Celestial-Campion conflict, sci-fi-through-the-stars, grand setting stuff that effectively comprises the B plot of this novel.
The A plot, the raison d’etre, is the “dislike to lovers” romance of Cassiopeia and Orion. And it’s been so long since I’ve read a romance-centric novel that was actually good that I don’t know how to review one when I see it. So, if you read this review backwards, it might make more sense because now we’re going to talk about the A plot.
When Cassiopeia, fleeing further romantic pursuit by Orion, falls (literally) into the path of an indie rock (sort of) group on their way to Battle of the Bands, it is very much reminiscent of extra-terrestrial entrances we’ve seen before—Thor, Superman, Megamind… okay, maybe not that last one. Point being, the setup is familiar and we think we know how it’s going to go. And there is some predictability—you can’t write a trope without certain elements of it being there that make it that trope—but there is far more charm and unexpected realness to the interaction making it a refreshing and memorable sequence in a sea of other similar opening scenes.
And what gives it its charm and realness? Mionis’ humorous and snappy writing style. She can turn a phrase and make a quick comparison that conveys instant emotion or visuals, setting the tone of the scene or relating a character’s feelings in the midst of action and dialogue without slowing down the pace for more than a heartbeat. The fast pace is actually one of the things I loved (and, eventually, for different reasons, love-hated) about this book. I’m not sure how I feel about the choice to time-jump a year from when Cassiopeia lands with the band to when we see her again and Orion is hot on her trail, but I understand it—it was a smart move, story-wise, to cut out most of Cassiopeia’s experience of that in favour of conveying Orion’s in real-time as he gets close to finding her. That way, we don’t have two sequences of getting used to “earth” culture, because, let’s face it, we’re all familiar with earth culture, unless there are secret ETs among my readers (no judgment if there are).
The group she falls in with is also a highlight—it’s a found-family dimension without feeling forced. Cassiopeia isn’t besties with everyone in Justice for Pluto (superior band name, by the way) and everyone in the group isn’t besties with each other; there’s a realistic dynamic created by everyone’s personalities.
Her close friendship with Cody in particular is really heartwarming and Sasha’s protectiveness when Orion rolls up is a great example of a female friends dynamic. I think maybe one of the things that wasn’t served in the story by the super fast pace was that it wasn’t easy differentiating the characters, besides the two I just mentioned. The band members (and honorary member, Cody) are introduced all in a lump because they are all in the same vehicle at the beginning, which is fine, but then it requires a bit more time to effectively individualize them.
For instance, and maybe it was just me, but I went through a good page or two thinking that Amanda was Nick’s sister because she answered the door at his house and I remembered it being mentioned that she was a sister to one of the band members right at the beginning. Well, that scene quickly got problematic if they were siblings, so I had to go back and think about whose sister she was and everything became clear when I deduced she was actually Jason’s sister, not Nick’s. Again, this was probably just me reading it too fast and not registering everything I should, but I think it is at least partially a result of the pace being so quick that there wasn’t a lot of time with some of the secondary characters, making it harder to keep them straight without stopping to think about it.
But then they are secondary characters, and we’re here for Cassiopeia and Orion, amirite? Cassiopeia’s reactions to Orion were refreshingly honest and the way he slowly tries to win her over was a nice change from my most recent forays into romance fiction. The way their minds connect involuntarily speaks of some subconscious level of desire that neither wants to acknowledge, for different reasons, and those scenes were really atmospheric and intimate. Swoon. And while not completely open with one another on every level, they have conversations that feel natural at the stage of their relationship. They have misunderstandings, they have hesitations, they have conflict to work through, including their initial misjudgement of one another, but it never feels like drama for the sake of drama.
That is not to say that they’re both angelic, well-adjusted, non-problematic individuals. No, Orion’s first attempt at “wooing” Cassiopeia goes about as well as Prince Derek’s in The Swan Princess.
Cassiopeia, on the other hand, has had some struggles with hubris and a disregard for sentient life that motivates her guilt and avoidance throughout the story, but crops up again near the climax.
Orion also has an unexpectedly dark past, with overtones of the whole “following orders” defense for war crimes. It’s a bit of a conundrum, and one that there isn’t really given an easy answer to. Possibly, again, because the whole Celestial-Campion war is more of the B plot—set dressing, if you will—though it has real repercussions and consequences for the A plot, too, which comes to bear in a beautifully heartbreaking scene of Cassiopeia and Orion facing the scale and devastation of the events that led them to each other. And they kiss. It is a kissing book.
I really like this book for what it is, while seeing beyond to the vast potential of unexplored territory that might have moved it away from romance with a side dish of sci-fi, to sci-fi with a side dish of romance. The fast pace and sparse approach to the outer-space worldbuilding really leaves the stage open for the romance and sweetness of the tone. The setting of the indie rock group with its oddities and struggles is a neat way to give a unique feel, making music and art culture the one that our Celestials encounter specifically, rather than having the experience be lost in the mélange of the mainstream. And did I gasp in disbelief and grin like an idiot when I read the title for Chapter Four, “Nobody Likes the Opening Band,” because someone else listens to iDKHOW? Yes, yes, I did that.
It’s a quick read and Mionis definitely erred on the side of leaving the readers wanting more, rather than over-writing. I definitely want more. I want more of her engaging and amusing writing style, I want more of her inventive science-fiction-y sentient stars and incorporeal entities rocketing through nebulae, I want more of her feel-good relationships and quirky subculture references…
Basically, can her next book be about 800 pages long? Because I would read that without complaint. (Ignores the >800 page To Sleep in a Sea of Stars looking at me in disbelief, given my less-than-patient review of its length.) Seriously.
In the meanwhile, I am going to have to make do with following the promotional blog-tour leading up to the book’s official release to get more of a scoop on the whole world of the story and its conception. Check out the pre-order announcement and the blog tour details here.
Amazon Kindle Pre-order Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09QFH2Z1G/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_J8W4H154BT02HPAFMAVY
Kobo Pre-order Link: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-last-celestials
Paperback Pre-order Link: https://wordsandothermalarky.com/product/the-last-celestials-paperback/ (Free US shipping!)
GoodReads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/60034996-the-last-celestials