By Jen P
Starflight, by Melissa Landers, sat in my to-read pile for a long time. (You may remember, Landers burned me with her hints of sex but no delivery in Alienated and Invaded.) Starflight is the first in her new space travel series about a girl on the run from a past that’s literally tattooed on her knuckles, and the blue-collar jerk who hires her as a servant, not knowing his big-money lifestyle is about to take a turn for the broke.
Hodge-podge, pirate-like crew, all on the run from various law enforcement and criminal organizations in space? Yeah, it’s kinda like Firefly. But unlike Firefly, the action takes the shotgun seat to the YA romance. And unlike Alienated, Landers delivers on the sex in the first book this time.
Starflight is set in a bleak future where the rich grow richer and the poor grow poorer. Solara Brooks, our heroine, was abandoned at an orphanage very young when her parents could no longer afford to feed her. A maverick with machinery, she fell in with the wrong crowd and was caught stealing parts from city trams to sell on the black market. In this future, your crimes are tattooed directly on your hands for all the world to see. Sure, you can have the tattoos removed, but you need money for that, something Solara doesn’t have. With the promise of free farmland and a fresh start in the Outer Realm, Solara begs her way onto a passenger ship as an indentured servant to the only person who will hire her, Doran Spaulding—an elitist jock who treated her like garbage during the short time she went to his private mechanical academy on scholarship before her conviction.
When Doran finally notices the tattoos on her hands, he tries to drop her at the first fueling station, but Solara has come too far to see her hopes of a future crushed again. She knocks him out with stunner—it’s like a tazer, but filled with “enough neuro-inhibitors to drop a mule”. Once he comes to, he won’t remember his own name for at least two days, which would give her time to escape, but then she remembers her financial situation and forms a new plan. She lugs the mean rich-boy with her, but tells him he’s her servant, and stocks up on supplies using his wristband and handprint. But it only takes a few minutes for the fancy passenger ship to send guards after them at the fueling station, and Solara has to barter with the crew of another ship, the Banshee, for passage.
The Banshee isn’t much to look at, but it’s fast and the crew doesn’t ask too many questions. The titanium-legged Captain Rossi, the sticky-fingered first mate, Renny, the charming pretty-boy cook, Kane, and the tiny but menacing ship hand, Cassia all have their own secrets.
Then they’re off, helping the crew make cargo deliveries to distant planets on their way to the Fringe and Solara’s bright future. But when pirates, elaborate frame-up conspiracies, and a surprise relationship with the one person she hates most develops, Solara realizes her future may not be in the Outer Realm at all, but right here on this ship.
What I liked about it:
One of the best things about Starflight, is that you could read it as a stand-alone novel. That isn’t saying I didn’t want more, but it’s exhausting having to constantly invest so much time into series and trilogies. Can’t anyone just write a stand-alone novel anymore? (The next book in the series centers on secondary characters from this one, so we’ll get a little more on Solara and Doran, but they take a backseat this time. I’ll review it as soon as I get my hands on it and let you know if it’s any good.)
Anyway, I also liked the character development. Everyone on the Banshee has their past, which influences every choice they make. Bad or good, their actions are all true to character and it was interesting to find out why certain characters were doing seemingly uncharacteristic things as more backstory was revealed.
Space pirates are always fun, and the crew goes up against an entire armada of them. The other bad guys were just as interesting and well developed, from the government-paid Enforcers to the pierced-up pain and sensory deficient Daeva.
And how can I read a space-romance without saying something about the love story? These two at first seem a mis-matched pair, which I worried I wouldn’t get behind, but as the reasoning for their mutual distrust and dislike is revealed, a cautious trust is forged. I liked watching the two characters grow closer and sacrifice for each other through their shared struggles, and wondered how they’d make it work since they planned to go separate ways in the end.
What I disliked:
This story is clichéd and full of tropes. We’ve seen this rich-get-richer, poor-get-poorer world before; we live it now. We know the story about the rich jerk who isn’t really a jerk and the tough girl with the tender heart. We’ve even seen space pirates and titanium-legged captains before. But I will say that Landers made it fun and mixed it up enough to keep it interesting, even if it wasn’t the most original story I’ve ever read.
The landscape descriptions were lacking. I wanted more about the spaceports, the planets, and the ships and felt like I was having to fill in too many blanks with my imagination. Otherwise, I had a solid visual for each character and their clothing, and a few of the spaces like the game room and engine room on the Banshee. Landers focused most of her descriptions on the characters themselves—inside and out—which serves the story well.
All in all, Starflight was easy and enjoyable to read. It’s no Shakespeare, but who really enjoys that stuff anyway? Fancy Old English is for the scholarly, and let’s be honest, we’re here to have fun. So if you want a break from day-to-day stresses, come take a ride on the Banshee with Solara and the rest of the crew. I doubt you’ll be disappointed, but feel free to let me know in the comments if that isn’t the case.