Engagement season is in the air. Eighteen-year-old Princess Leonie “Leo” Kolburg, heir to a faded European spaceship, only has one thing on her mind: which lucky bachelor can save her family from financial ruin?
But when Leo’s childhood friend and first love Elliot returns as the captain of a successful whiskey ship, everything changes. Elliot was the one that got away, the boy Leo’s family deemed to be unsuitable for marriage. Now, he’s the biggest catch of the season and he seems determined to make Leo’s life miserable. But old habits die hard, and as Leo navigates the glittering balls of the Valg Season, she finds herself falling for her first love in a game of love, lies, and past regrets.
I’m a huge fan of YA stories set in space, I feel it’s never used enough so I was excited to get the chance to read this thanks to Titan Books. It’s pegged as a retelling of Persuasion coupled with The Bachelor, which I have both never read and never watched so I went in with a clean slate of what to expect. The cover is truly beautiful and I’m much preferring the UK version that we get!
Humanity has taken to the skies to escape what they have done to the Earth. Relegated to rapidly deteriorating space crafts with dwindling resources, it really is the case of the more things change the more they stay the same when it comes to the rich poor divide. The ships are pretty much floating countries or groups of countries, for Leo and her family they are attached to the Scandinavian, and the general concept left me with a Mortal Engines feel. I have to say I immediately liked Leo as a character and I think anyone who has had experience of trying to make ends meet will be able to identify with her and her frustrations. I felt that her determination at finding an alternative solution to her family’s woes a great side plot and the route she takes pretty genius. The Valg season however is the centre point which comes around every 4 years. I found strange seeing as the pickings are somewhat slim on board each ship and the participants seem to go from underage to over the hill within that gap, however it serves as a relevant plot device! The season feels pretty cringy at times with the participants forced into speed dating, baking, painting and all manner of contrived situations, but the characters still dive in with varying levels of interest!
The friendships and shifting dynamics were nicely done though, with a lot of genuine fun being had in between. The book is also great for representation with gay, demi, and ace characters very much at the forefront. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that this was enemies to lovers but there is definite tension which is more than a little swoony at times, spacewalk anyone? I really enjoyed the comedy of errors feel at every turn with facepalm moments of near misses and for a group able to communicate by direct message, they really take the indirect route most of the time. This all serves to drive the story forward though in a wonderfully endearing way and actually brought about a regency kind of feel in a nod to the story it takes it’s initial inspiration from. I’m not sure yet where I would pitch the story as whilst there are some very YA moments it felt like more of a teen read overall.
I did feel that the movement for change/terrorist aspect took quite a back seat sadly, after the initial gatecrash with a frightening display and threatening message I really thought were in for more of a mystery to be solved and greater upheaval but despite that side to it, everyone seemed perfectly happy to go back to parties and speed dating. I was left feeling whether it was really a necessary addition to the story at all as it kind of detracted from the overall tone of the story. I was also left feeling uncomfortable at how advanced Carina became for her 16 years, especially with her level of engagement with the partying and her eventual match, perhaps that’s just the parent coming out in me though.
I would sum up The Stars we Steal as a great, fun read with fantastic characters and storytelling. It’s easy going, full of friendship, sweet romance, second chances and it’s in space!