Stars Uncharted by S.K. Dunstall
An engrossing space opera that is a high octane fight for survival set in space with vibes from Firefly and a bit of Undercover Boss. Buckle in and get ready for an adventure!
About the Book
Publisher: Ace | Release Date: August 14, 2018 | Pages: 412
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction | Format: eARC | Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Three people who are not who they claim to be:
Nika Rik Terri, body modder extraordinaire, has devoted her life to redesigning people’s bodies right down to the molecular level. Give her a living body and a genemod machine, and she will turn out a work of art.
Josune Arriola is crew on the famous explorer ship the Hassim, whose memory banks contain records of unexplored worlds worth a fortune. But Josune and the rest of the crew are united in their single-minded pursuit of the most famous lost planet of all.
Hammond Roystan, the captain of the rival explorer ship, The Road, has many secrets. Some believe one of them is the key to finding the lost world.
Josune’s captain sends her to infiltrate Roystan’s ship, promising to follow. But when the Hassim exits nullspace close to Roystan’s ship, it’s out of control, the crew are dead, and unknown Company operatives are trying to take over. Narrowly escaping and wounded, Roystan and Josune come to Nika for treatment–and with problems of her own, she flees with them after the next Company attack.
Now they’re in a race to find the lost world…and stay alive long enough to claim the biggest prize in the galaxy.
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Stars Uncharted is written by S.K. Dunstall, a pseudonym for a writing team of two sisters, which is so cool! This is a slow burn story that reminds me of how Joss Whedon’s television shows build up, and fans of Firefly will indeed get some nostalgia feels! (I certainly envision Roystan as Nathan Fillian.)
This is a world where no one is who they seem to be, where people can change their appearances, and every character has a backstory to hide. The premise of this book is a simple one: the crew aboard The Road comes across an abandoned ship within the legal zone on a supply run and board to claim it and its contents based on salvage laws… and uncovers a clue to a highly prized mystery. Before they can set off in search of their riches, members from one of the Big 27 Companies try to take the secret by force. Can they outrun the Big Bad and lay claim to the treasure?
Stars Uncharted is told in the alternating and disparate perspectives in the same universe:
➡️ Nika Rik Terri is one of the best body modifiers there is, but danger knocks on her door frequently due to her abusive ex-boyfriend Alejandro and his connections. As she flees her own issues, she brings along rookie modder Snow to protect him from his own troubles.
➡️ Josune Arriola is a brilliant engineer and explorer that has learned to fight through her years working as a space explorer. She is strong and badass and I admire her so much.
In addition to our two female main characters, we have Hammond Roystan, captain of The Road. For the last six weeks Josune has served as Roystan’s junior engineer and after the crew finds trouble following their salvage their paths cross with Nika. The first 100 pages or so I was wondering how and when the storylines would converge, but when they finally do it is satisfying to read.
The worldbuilding to describe the world our characters inhabit is vast and detailed, and I really enjoyed learning about these technologies as well as the “fashion patterns” of modifications. Unfortunately, I did find the discussions of the technology and science involved in modifications a bit too much at times. While it is accessible and not written like it is an academic paper written by an expert in the field, I found it sometimes to be excessive and detracting from the overall plot. I know this will come as no surprise given that I love a good backstory, but I do wish that there was some sort of worldbuilding in the way of how humanity got to this point in history. I would almost think that this is a different world if not for brief references to Earth and the cost of importing foods “out here.” Did humanity branch out to the stars and spread across the universe? Do they live on planets or spaceships? Who are these companies really?
A central theme of the book is body and gene modification, largely in part because Nika is one of our POVs. Her inner monologue often drifts to how she will fix things, both critical to health and cosmetic. Nika’s obsession with modding (which appears to be kind of advanced cosmetic surgery that can completely change one’s appearance as well as heal) can be overwhelming and inescapable. While it is fine to be really into your work, it was a bit difficult to read Nika’s thoughts about people’s imperfections and what she would fix if given the chance – from insinuating that red hair should be changed to trimming the fat from another character.
This is a character-driven story and I adore each of them barring Nika, whose obsession with modding can be overwhelming and inescapable because she is one of our POVs. I cared more about the characters and the mess they were in than with Nika’s near-constant obsession with her profession. I would have like to see more character development as the story progressed, each of them are essentially the same as when they started on their adventure but with their backstories mostly exposed to the group (except for Snow, boo hiss!). I like my characters a little dark and twisty with a bit more conflict than just being chased by Bad Guys, but that didn’t stop my overall enjoyment of the story.
Reflecting a bit on the book to write this review, I do think that the writing was a bit repetitive at times and certain clues I feel like were hammered home. I love a good mystery but prefer to have the clues be more subtle so that the reveal smacks me unexpected. I guessed what was being built up to about 50 pages before the characters figured it out, but I knew it was something along those lines well before I finally pieced it together.
Overall this is an enjoyable space opera adventure with good pacing for a slow-building character-driven story. There’s a conflict with The Big Bad, the sting of betrayal, the mystery of who each of the characters really is and unraveling what they are each running from/hiding. There are aspects of this book that remind me of Firefly: the ragtag team, space exploration, supply runs, and the love of an old ship with outdated features that save the day. To be honest, this would make an excellent movie or television show and something I would love to see adapted. The end is mostly wrapped up in a way that leaves it open for more stories with these characters and their found family, and I would love to see where they end up next.
I received a free ARC from the publisher via Penguin First to Read in exchange for my honest review.