I’m one of those crazy “book” people who has actually read Les Misérables in its entirety. All 1,200 pages of that bad boy. It took me six months of reading slowly, chapter by chapter so I wouldn’t get frustrated, but I did it. And it was (mostly) worth it. Victor Hugo’s novel is a masterpiece and there are so many truths hidden between all those words. So I am extremely impressed by Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell’s science-fiction retelling, Sky Without Stars.
The planet of Laterre once stood for hope, promising a new life for the wealthy French families. But centuries later, Laterre is divided between the lavish elite and the starving poor. And beneath its surface, revolution is brewing. When a royal murder shakes Laterre’s stronghold, three strangers—a thief, an officer, a guardian—are thrust among the chaos and their choices will determine the future of the planet.
Sky Without Stars is a long book, as it should be. The intricate layers of character, setting, and politics the authors weave to create the backdrop and conflict of their retelling is phenomenal. It didn’t feel like I was reading almost 600 pages. From the start, I was dragged into this divided world on the brink of revolution and forced to fight my way out alongside the characters.
And the characters, like Hugo’s novel, are what draw me to the story again and again. Chatine’s desperation to be someone else and desire to be somewhere else. Marcellus’ inner turmoil of who to trust and who to be. Alouette’s longing for something more and loyalty to what she knows. The characters are mirages of their Les Mis counterparts but molded to this new universe, which sets them apart as heroes of their own story.
Other familiar characters populate the world of Laterre as well. From Chatine’s scumbag parents and the adorable street rat Roche to a cyborg Inspector holding an old grudge and Alouette’s father, who is hiding dark secrets. While I wish there had been more familiar faces (where are my barricade boys?), I trust they will show up in the sequel and it will be glorious. I also hope there will be more on LeGrand’s (Valjean) backstory since his character arc is my favorite in the original novel. I understand why the authors chose to focus the story on the younger characters, but I cannot forget that Valjean is the heart of Les Mis and the thematic elements of his arc are what made me stick through 1,200 pages of sewer descriptions and the explanation of the Battle of Waterloo.
The authors also did a fantastic job adapting the political instability of early 19th century France to a world with cyborgs and laser guillotines and video chat and other advanced technology. Some of the war-torn, struggling-to-survive aspects reminded me of the TV show Firefly and other parts were reminiscent of Star Wars. But it worked. It brought the problems of 19th century France to this new universe along with the desperation that strangles the people who populate the planet. I think the world-building, after the characters, is one of the best aspects of the book.
The plot itself is straightforward but so entwined with the various characters that it’s a lot to unravel. At the heart, the book is about the beginning of a revolution. But it’s much more than a revolution, and while it is loyal to the plot of Les Mis, it branches off into its own story. There are secrets and blackmail, longing for answers and love, desires to be seen and known, and hope for a future amidst the bleak gray skies. It’s Les Mis in space.
Sky Without Stars is an incredible and brilliant retelling of a beloved classic. While long, it dives deep into the characters’ psyche and morals and gives hope despite the circumstances. And oh boy, I am ready for the revolution.
7 thoughts on “Book Review: Sky Without Stars by Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell”
OMG! I don’t know how I’ve missed this! I also trudged through Les Mis. I did it a couple years ago, and I spent almost a whole year on it. I thought it was totally worth it in the end as I was drying tears and reflecting on all the wisdom. But, it was definitely rough enduring the very long descriptions of EVERYTHING! Now I’m so excited to read this! Thanks for sharing!!
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I haven’t heard a whole lot of people talking about it either, which is a shame since I thought it was so well done. I think reading Les Mis is so worth it BECAUSE of all the wisdom. Taking the time to read through it slowly to soak it up and understand it is definitely the way to go with Les Mis.
I hope you enjoy Sky Without Stars! Thank you 🙂
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Hallo, Hallo Jaime,
Reading your Top Favourites of 2020 and it interlinked me to search out this series and per your note on the sequel you read in 2020 I realise I need to read this one first and then read the sequel before I read your sequel review – if that makes sense? I just read the top paragraph of this review and I am seriously IMPRESSED and HOOKED. The only key issue? I’ve not yet read Les Mis! Which means I need to get that into queue this year for my #theclassicsclub challenge and then, make my journey into this series as I love reading original canon and then after canon literature. It is a top pleasure of mine as a reader and I cannot wait to embark on this journey!
So thank you for the nudge and for the suggestion because as I read more on my Classics Club list I do want to extend that reading list into seeking retells, sequels, variants and after canon lovelies and now I have one for this story! Who knew!? Plus I want to see the film adaptations, too.
Since I’m refocusing my reading challenges this year to more personal challenges than book blogosphere challenges (though let’s face it there will be quite a few of those too!) I am grateful for bloggers like you who share my same interests and are seeking out books I have always hoped to have found! Happy New Year, to you!
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Good luck with Les Mis, it’s definitely not an easy book to get through! I watched the latest film adaptation (2012?) of the musical before I ever read, which I think helped me understand the story better.
I hope you enjoy Sky Without Stars / Systems Divine trilogy whenever you have a chance to read them. 🙂
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Ofph. I know! Its a chunkster of a book but I have it long listed on my Classics reading goals – that is partially why I joined The Classics Club as its self-directed and self-discovering the Classics at your own pacing and reading sensibility. I knew a lot of the books I picked to read were going to be challenging reads but I’d rather take the challenge and see something I might not have otherwise seen than to avoid it completely. Though like you, sometimes I find myself preferring a retold tale over the originals.. uniquely enough! lol 🙂
I hope I will too and I will remember to update you on my progresses.
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