Sci-fi Book Review: Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

Sci-fi Book Review

Light From Uncommon Stars
Ryka Aoki
Publication Date: Sept. 28, 2021
Publisher: Tor Books
Genres: Sci-fi

Light From Uncommon Stars was a bizarre, beautiful, bewildering read. There were so many pieces that were not to my taste, so many elements in which I had zero interest, and yet, as a whole, I found it captivating. Above all else, even if the emotions it evoked were too often rage and sadness, Ryka Aoki had me emotionally invested in Katrina's fate, so much so that I had to keep reading.

There's a lot going on here, far too much to boil down into a simple synopsis, but let me touch on the high points. It's a story of queer identities and queer love, with the identity of Katrina Nguyen (transgender violin prodigy) taking precedence over the love affair between Shizuka Satomi (demonically cursed violin teacher) and Lan Tran (alien manager of a donut shop). It's a story about the difference between technical perfection and inspired imperfection, whether that be in music, cooking, or living. It's a story about the families we're born into versus those we choose (or which choose us). It's also a story about death and change versus mortality and stagnation, and those themes become increasingly important as we get closer to the end.

I'm not one for trigger warnings, but there's a TON of misgendering, deadnaming, transphobic slurs, and all-around transphobic hate within this story - and that's where my rage came in. I'd hoped it would get better, that Katrina's life would get better, but Aoki doubles down on allowing characters to spew hatred in the final arc of the book, forcing a make-or-break moment as we push towards resolution. It's a queer-positive story, and Aoki clearly has a lot of love and compassion for Katrina, but the ugliness of the world got too much for me on more than one occasion. I will say, however, I was relieved by the fact that Katrina's transgender identity was never magically resolved through demonic deals or alien technology, as there were times I feared the story was going there.

Narratively, Light From Uncommon Stars is told in brief snippets, leaping back-and-forth between POVs, and that was a major challenge for me. I find those hard stops and sudden shifts take me out of the story, keep me at arm's length, and if it weren't for being so invested in Katrina as a character, I likely would have DNF'd this early on. In terms of genre, I loved the urban fantasy and romance vibes, but I struggled with the sci-fi aspects. I get why they were there and what Aoki was doing with them thematically, but the whole starship/stargate donut shop idea was rather absurd and often tiresome.

So, hardly my favorite read of the year, but Light From Uncommon Stars overcame a lot of negatives to keep me reading through to the end. It lost me a bit there, as the tone, telling, and pacing suddenly jumped from impulse to warp drive, with too many twists and climaxes bogging down the narrative, but I came away satisfied with Katrina's arc, and that was really all that mattered.

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ 1/2

My sincere thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.