ARC Reactions: An Ocean of Stars Review

Blurb for An Ocean of Stars by Becca Mionis

Girl, meet boy. He’s the reason you’re lost in space.

Xanorra Nepier thought she’d spend the next eight years making space colonist history: exploring the other side of the Current, the galaxy’s only known wormhole. But when a mysterious ship attacks and she’s separated from her family and crew, her only choice is to accept the help of the enemy ship’s captain. The kicker: he’s a boy her age who has never met another human before. And it shows.

Boy, meet girl. She’s the one thing that could put your mission at risk.

Captain Omen has a destiny to fulfill: to ferry his cargo on board the Atlantis to a secret world and begin humanity’s next chapter beyond the stars. He certainly wasn’t supposed to rescue a stranded spacer girl, especially one whose ship he had just destroyed… and who his android crew insists is a threat to the mission. She may be loud, but she can’t be all bad, can she?

Their paths were never supposed to cross, but what begins as a shaky alliance grows into a genuine connection–a connection that’s tested with each new obstacle they encounter, both within the confines of the Atlantis… and without.

My Review

The release date is here! Witness my scramble to finish a review for the launch of An Ocean of Stars by Becca Mionis. Becca was kind enough to reach out to me to review an ARC, and after enjoying her debut novel, The Last Celestials (which I reviewed here), I couldn’t wait to read this one.

You read the blurb, so I’m not going to reiterate that. It’s basically forced proximity. In space. How’s that for a paradox.

So, a little unexpected on the face of it, but also really intriguing. With its elements of homage to classic science fiction novels and its unabashed preferencing of the romance plot, this first installment of a space trilogy is doing a lot. And succeeding, for the most part.

The beginning felt a little slow, but despite doing all the necessary set dressing and introduction it was not excessively lengthy either. That’s something Mionis does really well in general with her writing: getting the necessary information across in a way that is succint but sufficient. She definitely does not display any tendency to fall into that bane (to my mind) of science fiction novels which is the extended paragraphs of description and explanation of planets, aliens, technology, governmental and societal structures, etc.

Nothing like that, this is a great functional opening sequence that establishes the main character and her world of the colony ship in a way that is interesting and doesn’t drag. I think maybe the reason it felt slow to me is because I didn’t feel any stakes immediately. Xannora’s case to get aboard the exploration vessel is pretty straightforward and I never felt any doubt that she would get it. For opening with a literal council hearing, the politics of this organization seem rather nonexistent, or at least not present in any way that has a personal impact on Xan, her family, or job. Not saying I want a rundown of the governmental system and cataloguing of reasons why Xan might not get on board the ship, because that would have been, well, back to the bane of sci-fi I was mentioning earlier. But I did find it hard to get invested Xan’s motivation and struggle at the beginning because I didn’t fully feel the significance of either.

That said, there is one place in which the description and explanation does run a little longer, which is when Xannora boards Captain Omen’s ship. The androids, the corridors, the uncanniness, and the nautical themes running through… Mind you, this is the setting in which most of the book takes place. Definitely warrants a bit longer description, so I only complain about its length insofar as it delays for a bit longer the interaction we all came here to see: the one between Xannora and Omen.

Can we stop and appreciate his name, by the way? Not only is “Omen” really cool and unique, but it also doubles as one of those homages to classic sci-fi I was mentioning: “Omen” spelled backwards is “Nemo.” And not the “Finding Nemo” kind, the doomed Captain Nemo kind. Which I appreciate all the more as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was one of those sci-fi books that included pages and pages of description, like I mentioned earlier. I still don’t know how such a short book packed so much description. But that’s a digression.

Got to appreciate the OG Captain Nemo’s philosophical, misanthropic monologues tho

Despite my scepticism about robotic, emotionless men as love interests–or just in general, really–I found the way in which Omen’s character was constructed quite fascinating. The first encounters are tantalizing enough to delay any inital doubts I had about the plausibility of a human actually being able to develop and grow from infancy to adulthood in complete isolation, as we are to believe Omen did. However, as Xan finds out more about how Omen grew up and we are taken on the discovery along with her, I was more horrified than I ever expected to be, despite fully expecting to be somewhat horrified. It is really well done and I was impressed by how dark the tone was able to go despite mostly being kept quite light overall by Xan’s narrative voice.

Xan’s first-person narration fits with her character as an extroverted chatterbox, informative and joking at times, managing to showcase that ease of succinct narrative style I mentioned earlier. I enjoyed it over all and it makes for some really comedic moments and entertaining comments on what’s going on. However, it is sometimes too facetious and self-referential, verging on lamp-shading at times, which can undermine confidence in the believability of the story, and threatened my suspension of disbelief occasionally.

The narration acted as a barrier between the reader and Xan at some points. Like the consistent conversational tone was deflecting for something, maybe hiding from herself as much as she seemed to be from the reader. She definitely displays more ability and ease figuring out what is going on with others than she does with herself, which, if I think about it, is probably what a lot of people are like. But I would have liked to see a bit more growth from her as the main character, more of a definite epiphany moment about herself that was connected with more than just the romance developing.

For instance, I found it intriguing that Xan’s initial motivating drive is to stay with her family and I would have liked to know more about that. Does she have an unusual fear of being alone? What triggered it originally? What experiences cemented her need to keep close to the people she loves? Did she lose someone? Was there a period of time when she felt abandoned as a child?

We don’t really know because it seems more of a passing thought and not an all-consuming need to reunite with her family after she’s gotten a bit used to life with Omen. Though, it is only natural that after the shock and fear of losing them she should turn to the only other human around for company and conversation. And of course, this is a romance novel and we all know what forced proximity means in a romance novel.

After the really well-done reveal of Omen’s past, I just felt like Xan’s own past and formative experiences were neglected or glossed over in comparison. Her character has so much room in different directions for development, and it would make her motivations more convincing to me.

One of the things that is established well about Xan is her gift for teaching, and how she utilizes it creatively to engage Omen when he seems disinterested in interacting with her. There are some really fun sequences and banter that help lay the groundwork for their relationship, so that when the romance starts to develop, though not problem-free, I was there for it.

Xan displays capacity for real emotional intelligence in her ability to read her sister, Quin, at the beginning, and later Omen and others that they encounter. It also provides a nice conflict and contrast between Xan and Omen, because of course he is a solitary person with absolutely no developed personal skills. Xan’s strength also proves to be a drawback in some conflicts because her people skills are of no use to her when faced with non-human antagonists, which played out in a fascinating way throughout the story.

Back to Xan’s sister, the side plot with Quin trying to find her and tracking down background about Omen’s ship the Atlantis was engagingly woven in. Besides being an interesting character to follow, Quin’s discoveries about the group involved in launching Omen’s mission brought some grounding to this mysterious ship from nowhere and also brought troubling new secrets about its cargo to light. Governmental conspiracies and planet colonization, rich corporations and human experimentation all show up in the messy legacy of the Atlantis and its captain. And where is the Space Exploration Alliance factoring into all this?

The plot thickens steadily throughout the book, with the romance seeming to develop on its own at first, other plots running like background programs and building momentum. When some isolated, menacing occurences onboard culminate in Omen trying to get Xan off his ship for safety, the story really branches in some twisty new directions and doesn’t stop for a breath. The climactic events are handled really well, sometimes leaving me gasping. They also all grow organically from seeds planted earlier along in the story and have real impact on the ongoing action.

I can’t even be mad about the cliffhanger-y ending, not only because it was set up really well (I knew he shouldn’t have been pulling tubes willy-nilly!), but also because the action is ongoing: it is a planned trilogy and we’re going to get the further adventures of Xan and Omen. I’m really looking forward to finding out what happens next, how their characters continue to develop, and what other travellers they encounter from the vastness of space… or the inside of their ship. Dun-dun-DUN!!

Thanks again to Becca for giving me an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review!

Check out An Ocean of Stars on Goodreads and Amazon, then head over to Becca Mionis’ blog and join in the launch celebration!

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