But who names a starship the Icarus? What kind of man possesses that much hubris, that he dares it to fall?
—These Broken Stars
I’ve seen Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner’s These Broken Stars described as “Titanic in space” in quite a few places. And, for the first few chapters, that’s totally accurate: On the luxury starship Icarus, 18-year-old Tarver Merendsen, war hero and poet’s son (which is code for Doesn’t Come From Money), meets 16-year-old Lilac LaRoux, daughter of the richest man in the universe, and sparks fly. Sadly, Lilac knows that if she encourages his suit, her father will Destroy Him. So she deliberately—and quite thoroughly, despite her mixed feelings—rebuffs Tarver, taking care to humiliate him so fully that he’ll never look at her again.
Mere hours later, sparks of a literal sort fly, and the Icarus goes down. In the scramble for life pods, Tarver and Lilac end up all alone in one together somehow…and after a brief, bumpy, uncomfortable ride, they find themselves all alone on an alien planet, the sole survivors of a shipwreck.
Tarver and Lilac alternate narration, which makes it quite a bit easier to put up with some seriously obnoxious behavior on both fronts: Since the audience is always privy to the inside scoop, we know why they’re acting like jerks at any given time. Although he’s likable enough—his Jerk Moments are far fewer than Lilac’s, and are usually fueled by necessity—Tarver isn’t a hugely interesting character, as he’s one of those super strong, super sensitive, super mature, borderline all-knowing heroes who develops a lurrrve for the heroine, but keeps it under wraps Because He’s Beneath Her, etc., etc. As he’s already pretty much “perfect” at the outset of the story, he doesn’t have much growing to do, so there’s little-to-no character development on that front. Lilac, meanwhile, does quite a bit of changing. It isn’t so much that she grows—on the inside, she is who she’s always been, and it’s quite fun to see her begin to turn her stubborn strength outward—but she comes out of her shell and into her own, and realizes that the only power that others have over her is the power that she gives them*.
For the most part, These Broken Stars is a solid entry into the rapidly growing YA space opera field. In terms of character, plotting and worldbuilding, it’s not as rich or well-developed as Beth Revis’ Across the Universe, and in terms of pure emotion, it’s not as gutting as Cori McCarthy’s The Color of Rain, but it’ll hold its own against other angst-heavy, romance-centric stories about opposites attracting. Since the focus is more on Tarver and Lilac’s immediate attraction and slower-growing friendship than on Kaufman & Spooner’s vision of the future, science or, again, on the worldbuilding, it’s very likely to appeal to readers who don’t naturally gravitate toward science fiction. And although it’s the first in a series, it’s one of those rare first installments that works completely well as a stand-alone.
*It should probably be noted that she’s coming from a place of extreme privilege. She doesn’t have to worry about economic fallout from her decisions, and she’s secure in the knowledge that her father really loves her: In other words, even if she makes him unhappy, she’s sure that he won’t throw her under the bus. (I’ll be curious to see if that relationship survives the series, though. I rather doubt it.)
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while re-watching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.