Book Review: Sky Without Stars by Jessica Brody & Joanne Rendell
Updated: Jul 1, 2020
“The System Divine offered hope. Hope to the inhabitants of a dying world. With its three beautiful Sols and twelve habitable planets, the miraculous system would become a new home. A new start…High on a hill, the family built their Grand Palais…And in the Flatlands below…The magnificent ships that had once carried these workers across the galaxies became their homes.”
Welcome to Les Misérables in space! Victor Hugo’s Les Mis is top of the list of my all-time favourite books. This was the first retelling I have read, and apparently, there are more (please let me know some others!). I loved the balance between the retelling and original story. It was perfect. Although I haven’t read them, this book is also supposed to be similar to The Lunar Chronicles. Sky Without Stars is the first book in the System Divine series. The novel revolves around three characters, each having a POV per chapter. Chatine: lives in the Frets with her parents, the Renard’s. She’s a sneaky thief, doing her parent’s bidding while her sister, Azelle, works in a factory. Chatine offers to spy on Marcellus in return for passage to a better life on another planet. Marcellus is the grandson of a powerful General. He begins to doubt the leadership of his planet when he receives a message from someone from his past. Which side will he take in the looming revolution? Alouette lives with her father, Hugo, underground in the Refuge of the Sisterhood. She protects the only library on the planet. When she comes to the aid of wounded Marcellus on the surface, she can no longer stay underground and it opens up a web of mystery from her past. If you have read Les Mis, have you worked out the parallel characters? I enjoyed learning about these new and complex versions of Hugo’s characters. Their strengths were similar yet amplified. They were also not copies, but unique unto themselves. It was enjoyable finding new characters in the story such as Roche, Jean LeGrande and Inspecteur Limier, a cyborg of the droid policier force. Ok, I’ll stop comparing to Les Mis now…maybe.
“They shared the same three Sols…Like twelve siblings across the stars, they squabbled among one another…The rich traded goods and extravagances. While the poor traded dreams and ideas.”
The worldbuilding was profound, and I can’t wait to explore more of the planets. They were obviously modelled from countries in our world. Laterre, the planet in this book, is the darkest and coldest. It is always cloudy and continually rains. Those in the Flatlands can only dream of living under the artificial blue sky and starry nights which those in the Grand Palais enjoy. This planet was presumably settled by a French family. Many of the words were “Frenchified”, and I still can’t decide how much I like this. Many of the words which were changed were creative and helped to connect the book with Hugo’s story, but some may have been unnecessary.
“Whenever she was around Marcellus, she felt as though she had to be another level of another person. The best version of her fake self. She had to be the craftiest. The smartest. The quickest. The snarkiest. She had to be memorable.”
Being an Éponine fan, I enjoyed that the book centered around Chatine. The three characters were given equal importance, but the book began and ended with Chatine, helping her story become the main focus. Chatine was a strong character and not immune to heartbreak or wanting more for her life. She spent much of her life in the Frets as a boy, trying to prove herself to her father so he wouldn’t make her sell her blood—something which many girls wasted away doing. I liked that we can get to know her sister, Azelle. And that Azelle’s path was so different from Chatine’s, even though they were in the same family.
“ ’C’mon,’ Marcellus pleaded. ‘I need help. I don’t know how to talk to girls. They don’t…they all seem so scared of me. Or they just giggle and run away.’”
All the characters had truth’s to reveal from their past. Marcellus wasn’t immune to this. It was good to be inside his head, even though he completely misses a few things. It soothed my heart to see so many interactions between Chatine and Marcellus. Plus, it was a lovely meet-cute between Marcellus and Alouette.
“Two dots, then four dots, then six dots, a smooth surface, followed by one lonely dot at the end…His number.”
It was interesting that Alouette and her father were living with the Sisters. This made for some great twists later. Alouette and Hugo’s relationship was sweet and endearing. I liked how Alouette’s nickname was Little Lark, a reference from Les Mis. Alouette was and inquisitive and intelligent character. And bold. She’s excellent at hot-wiring and even impresses Chatine.
“Despite the fact that Chatine hated this girl with every bone in her body, she couldn’t help but feel impressed. Seriously impressed.”
Each character is so different and comes from varied backgrounds, yet their lives entwine perfectly well. Each character’s motivations and goals were clear. The tension towards the end allowed for each of the three characters to have revelationary moments almost all at once. I loved that these revelations took place on “The Darkest Night” (Ooooo, a favourite Hugo quote!). All of the characters have secrets from both the past and present, even the minor ones. I feel that many of them haven’t been revealed yet. I am looking forward to the next additions to the series. I’m also looking forward to getting to know the characters on a deeper level in future books. I felt somewhat distanced at times in this book, but at the same time, they had plenty of depth and uniqueness. I enjoyed the modernisation of the characters and the humour that came with it.
“What’s to like? They’re a bunch of lazy dropouts who think they’re better than the rest of us because they can live outside of the Regime and survive on love, kindness, singing songs, and eating wood chips.”
I’m looking forward to rereading this book (and series) many times in the future to find all the Easter Eggs from both the Les Mis book and musical. Sometimes the references are either slight or distinct, such as Chatine’s mother, Madame Renard being described as “master of the house”. True to Hugo’s themes, Sky Without Stars is a tale of class, struggle, inequality, revolution, being true to yourself and giving light to the best and worst of humanity. Coincidentally, I happened to finish reading within days of Victor Hugo’s birthday. The ending was magical. My heart goes out to Chatine and Roche. I can’t wait to read more in Between Burning Worlds.
“Be present and awake to your world, Little Lark.”
4.5 Stars Read: February 2020 Published: 2019