Noemi believes in the liberation of Genesis just as much as anyone else on the planet — and she’s willing to lay down her life for both her planet and her best friend. But a chance encounter with Abel, a mech from Earth, leads her on a galactic journey that will change her life — and the way she views the world.
Space operas are definitely my forte, and when Defy the Stars arrived for review, I was instantly intrigued by its premise: a rebel pilot preparing for a suicide mission meets an enemy robot and they fall in love.
Well, I thought to myself, this could go really awesomely or really badly.
I was thrilled to find out that it was the former. While “girl falls in love with robot” isn’t necessarily a unique premise, especially in the love-story-driven young adult genre, the way that Claudia Gray handles character development and plot in the novel absolutely makes Defy the Stars stand out from other YA space operas.
First, Abel — the robot or “mech” character from Earth — is fascinating and lovable. I’ve recently been watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Abel combines the hyperanalytical robot AI of TNG‘s Data with sarcasm, humor, and inner dialogue that’s betraying his growing capacity for human behavior and personality.
While reading Defy the Stars, I felt a certain level of kinship with and affection for Abel in a variety of scenes. He’s delightfully arrogant, but he’s never really incorrect about his abilities; on the other hand, he will always choose to do something as long as its likelihood of success is above 50% — even if it’s 50.2%.
He’s a wonderful contrast to Noemi, raised on the religion-driven and environmentally-focused Genesis. While Abel is driven by a single-minded programmed love for his creator, Noemi is similarly single-minded, driven by her love and affection for her adoptive sister, Esther, while (unlike Abel) struggling with a crisis of personal faith.
Religion is handled in Defy the Stars in a way rarely explored in speculative fiction. While organized religion is often vilified or explored as something that no longer makes sense in the face of science, Gray gives spiritual introspection its own place not only in Noemi’s life, but within the greater context of the novel.
Noemi’s religious background — specifically being raised in a highly religious and highly spiritual environment, her own personal struggles with faith aside — are absolutely key to the story and to her evolving relationship with Abel. Her religious background leads her to decide, quite before Abel, that the mech has a “soul,” and she believes before he does that he’s a person.
Like a romantic young adult version of Six Wakes, Defy the Stars is an exploration of ethics and humanity in the face of scientific developments we currently can only imagine — but they might not be too distant in the future.
I would recommend this book for readers who love action-packed, romantic space operas (and probably don’t get weirded out by romancey robots.) Readers who aren’t devoted to space operas but find technology and philosophy fascinating should also check this one out.
4.5 out of 5 stars
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