Down here on Earth the stars seem so far away. But I’ll tell you. Up there. It’s dark. It’s big. It’s beautiful. It’s mind-blowing to discover how little and vulnerable you really are. No one could have prepared you for this. The first times you walk in space are frightening, thrilling experiences. I love to see new kids’ faces when they come back after their first walk.

In the future, the Earth is a hard place to live. Climate change, drought, famine, plague, and war have ravaged the planet. The rich have left the planet behind, taking to the stars and colonies in the deep reaches of space—those survivors remaining on Earth have no choice but to migrate ever-Northward to find cooler climes.

It is not in outer space, but rather on this desiccated future Earth that The Stars Seem So Far Away spins its tale. Through alternating, episodic chapters, Margrét Helgadóttir tells the story of five different survivors. There’s a young woman named Nora, who is an unlikely pirate on the high seas, stealing from those who would steal from her, and making her gradual way north. Fastidious, pragmatic, and observant, Nora’s solitary path crosses that of young Aida—a daughter of privilege and wealth in a different life, who has since learned how to make herself seem invisible, and fend for herself. There’s a soldier, Simik, who believes in the old ways and the stories of his ancestors, who fights for independence for his people. Simik’s path crosses with that of Bjørg, a woman who stands sentinel on an island to the north, following her father’s instruction to protect a vault that could mean the difference between extinction and survival of humanity. And there’s Zaki, who has also been traveling alone until he meets an astronaut named Roar, who tells him stories of the stars and the dark.

These five survivors’ lives intertwine in ways unexpected and beautiful, culminating in a triumphant adventure and breaking free of the Earth’s past.

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I loved every minute of it.

The Stars Seem So Far Away is the debut novel from short story author Margrét Helgadóttir—though some of the chapters from this book were previously published as stand-alone short stories (lending to the episodic nature of the book). It is one hell of a debut, fellow readers. Poignant, elegiac, but ultimately hopeful, Stars is a story not so much about speculative futures and science-fiction adventure; instead, it’s the story of human survival and humanity grappling with loneliness, death, and hope. I would argue that the common thread running through these stories is the pervasive loneliness and desperation of hope. Each character is on his or her solitary path, only to discover that there are others—and that hope is real.

While several storylines are very powerful, and each of the five narrators is wonderful in his or her own way, I confess that Nora is my favorite. Easily. I have a soft spot for pirates, especially of the loner, wise-cracking variety, and Nora is that kind of sailor. She’s wise, and kind.

The only weak spot for me is that the early chapters do feel episodic and disjointed, like they are separate short stories set in the same world—though this is resolved neatly by the book’s ending.

I loved this book very much, and highly recommend it.

In Book Smugglerish: an entranced 8 northern islands out of 10.

Thea James and Ana Grilo are The Book Smugglers, a website for speculative fiction and YA. You can also find them on Twitter.