While I know I told myself to stop reading retellings of Jane Austen novels, I enjoyed Alexa Donne‘s Jane Eyre space retelling Brightly Burning, so I wanted to read her next novel, The Stars We Steal. Fortunately, it evolved from a retelling of Persuasion into “Jane Austen meets the Bachelor in space.”
Princess Leonie “Leo” Kolburg, heir to a rundown European spaceship, has limited options to save her family from financial ruin: marry rich or sell her own patented invention to a bigger spaceship. But as the Vlag Season begins and her father insists she finds someone to marry, Leo finds herself face-to-face with her childhood friend and first love, Elliot. Now that he’s the heir to a whiskey ship, he’s the biggest catch of the season and he’s out to make her life even more miserable than it already is. As Leo tries to focus on finding a suitable spouse, she finds herself drawn to Elliot again… along with all of his secrets.
If this had been a strict retelling of Persuasion, I don’t think I would have liked it. Leo wasn’t at all like Anne and Elliot didn’t quite exhibit Captain Wentworth’s more admirable qualities. But since it was more inspired by Persuasion instead—mainly to give the story a little more plot and drive—it works as a story.
My favorite aspects are the world-building and Leo’s relationship with her family. I love that the spaceships are based off different countries and colonies of Earth and function like countries with trade and travel laws. It was a cool way to include the political tension alongside the Vlag Season plot line.
While Leo’s family was pretty awful, very reminiscent of the Elliots in Persuasion, I liked how much Leo cared about her family. Even though her dad was laser focused on the wrong things and her sister was a bit carefree, Leo does whatever she can for them, even giving up love for them more than once. I also like that Leo’s relationship with her sister improves over the course of the book, and that her cousin, Klara, ends up being a much better character than I originally expected.
Since the core of the novel is about political dynamics, finding a suitable spouse to marry, and uncovering conspiracies, the pacing is a bit slow. It’s not a space story with a ton of action, but there was a space walk scene that makes me jealous.
The biggest turn offs for me with this story are the excessive drinking and the relationship between Leo and Elliot. Many of the characters go on and on about how their spaceships have limited resources and other ships in the fleet are suffering from lack of supplies, yet these teens never seem to have trouble finding alcohol to indulge in. Even the characters who scoff at the rich for hogging resources never seem to turn down the lavish food and drinks. Come on, priorities, people.
As for Leo and Elliot, their relationship felt borderline unhealthy. I’m not even sure I wanted them to end up together in the end most of the book because they were constantly nipping at each other and keeping secrets. I wish it had been closer to Anne and Wentworth’s old flame being renewed, but it didn’t come across that way if that’s what it was supposed to be.
While I have some mixed feelings about The Stars We Steal, it’s a good story for what it’s advertised as. If you like YA books with a lot of relationship drama and interesting world-building aspects, you might also enjoy this.