Review: Spinning Starlight

Reasons for Inclusion: All the major human characters are brown-skinned. The protagonist spends most of the story mute, but not because of a disability.

Publisher’s Summary: Sixteen-year-old heiress and paparazzi darling Liddi Jantzen hates the spotlight. But as the only daughter in the most powerful tech family in the galaxy, it’s hard to escape it. So when a group of men shows up at her house uninvited, she assumes it’s just the usual media-grubs. That is, until shots are fired. 

Liddi escapes, only to be pulled into an interplanetary conspiracy more complex than she ever could have imagined. Her older brothers have been caught as well, trapped in the conduits between the planets. And when their captor implants a device in Liddi’s vocal cords to monitor her speech, their lives are in her hands: One word, and her brothers are dead.

Desperate to save her family from a desolate future, Liddi travels to another world, where she meets the one person who might have the skills to help her bring her eight brothers home-a handsome dignitary named Tiav. But without her voice, Liddi must use every bit of her strength and wit to convince Tiav that her mission is true. With the tenuous balance of the planets deeply intertwined with her brothers’ survival, just how much is Liddi willing to sacrifice to bring them back? Haunting and mesmerizing, this retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Wild Swans fuses all the heart of the classic tale with a stunning, imaginative world in which a star-crossed family fights for its very survival. 

My Review:

(4.5/5)

If you found a portal high, if you found a portal low, where in the Eight Points would you go?

The Wild Swans is one of my favorite fairy tales. Spinning Starlight takes the idea of a girl whose voice is held hostage to her brothers’ survival and runs with it. 

As heir to her family’s enormous tech company, Liddi Jantzen has two main concerns: avoiding embarrassing herself in front of the news cameras that follow her every move, and someday having an invention of her own to present at the next tech conference. When her brothers go missing and she ends up on a planet she previously thought only a myth, her priorities change rather quickly. 

Ferinne split off from the Seven Points long ago, seeing them as arrogant and backwards. This planet has aliens. It has a written language, something the Seven Points abandoned ages ago in favor of voice-activiated AIs and audio recordings. Tiav, the young diplomat’s son who finds Liddi, is one of the few people willing to give this “heathen” a chance. 

I liked Liddi as a hero. She’s not over-confident, often doubting herself, but she’s certainly not weak. She struggles to communicate without her voice, and while Tiav has the patience to let her puzzle her way through their unfamiliar alphabet, it’s still slow going. And a comment from the woman holding her brothers hostage has convinced her that she was genetically modified to be less intelligent than them. But Liddi keeps going even when there’s so much set against her, even when the conflict turns out to involve several alien species.

The world of the Eight Points isn’t incredibly detailed, but it has everything it needs to tell the story. Each of the seven known planets has a specialty: Liddi’s home world’s is tech, Nevi’s is government, and so on. Other worldbuilding is done in small strokes: children’s games, expressions, technology. You can feel both the big picture and the little details, making the world immediately believable. 

On Ferinne, a planet of diverse species and roles, things are a little less proscribed. Liddi comments of an observatory built for multiple species: “Like everywhere else on Ferrine, there’s a place for everyone.” And one of Tiav’s most important beliefs is “Just because something’s right for you doesn’t mean it’ll be right for me.”

The attitudes of various characters are very distinct: Tiav and his mother want to trust Liddi and help her, his friend Kalkig thinks she’s a danger, the media back home thinks she’s a useless celebrity. Liddi’s narration sometimes includes her speculations of what the newscasters would say if they could see her at any particular moment. These manage to be both amusing and upsetting. This is how the world sees her, as a source of entertainment, to be the subject of judgement and gossip. But when she has to struggle for herself in an unfamiliar world with her entire family at stake, she learns she is absolutely capable of it.

And, on the topic of diversity, Liddi is brown. Her family is “sienna-skinned and dark-haired,” and everything in the book points to that being the standard of beauty in this world. Tiav is brown too, as is pretty much every other named character. Women also feature heavily in leadership roles: company leaders, police chiefs, government positions. And all this diversity is completely casual and accepted as an everyday thing. 

Another thing I liked was the way the romance worked. The two didn’t immediately click; their relationship grew over time as they worked together. And when they did fall for each other, it didn’t eclipse the plot. The relationship fit as a seamless part of the story. 

I highly recommend Spinning Starlight to anyone looking for diverse scifi with a lot of heart. 

 (ARC received from Netgalley)
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