ARCs Book Reviews

ARC Book Review: The Cruel Stars by John Birmingham

Thank you Del Rey Books and NetGalley for providing me with an e-ARC to read and review. The Cruel Stars by John Birmingham is set to be released August 20, 2019.


Image via NetGalley

Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: 3 out of 5
Recommend to Others?: Maybe


Summary (via NetGalley):

The galaxy was once terrorized by the Sturm, a group of “species purists” intent on destroying any human with genetic or cybernetic enhancements. Fashioning themselves as the one true “Human Republic,” the Sturm cut a bloody swath across the stars, killing billions before finally being defeated and driven into the far reaches of Dark Space. Centuries of peace bred complacency. Everyone believed the Sturm had died out in the Dark. They were wrong.

The enemy has returned and, with a brutal and decisive attack, knocks out almost all of humanity’s defenses. Now on the brink of annihilation, humankind’s only hope is a few brave souls who survived the initial attack: Commander Lucinda Hardy, thrust into uncertain command of the Royal Armadalen Navy’s only surviving warship. Booker3, a soldier of Earth, sentenced to die for treason, whose time on death row is cut short when the Sturm attack his prison compound. Princess Alessia, a young royal of the Montanblanc Corporation, forced to flee when her home planet is overrun and her entire family executed. Sephina L’trel, the leader of an outlaw band who must call on all of her criminal skills to resist the invasion. And, finally, Admiral Frazer McLennan, the infamous hero of the first war with the Sturm hundreds of years ago, who hopes to rout his old foes once and for all—or die trying.

These five flawed, reluctant heroes must band together to prevail against a relentless enemy and near-impossible odds. For if they fail, the future itself is doomed.


My Review:
The Cruel Stars is everything to love about a space opera and everything to fear about the future.

The inciting incident by the Strum is one of horrid fascination. It kind of felt like I was a reading a more futuristic version of The Walking Dead. And, once the initial dust, settles it seems rather obvious that something like this was bound to happen. That for all the advancement in science and technology there would always be the one opening – however big or small – that could turn things inside out.

For a good part of the story I felt like I was reading the five different possible versions of the story. Following five POVs is fine but somewhat hard to follow. It starts out like any select random people turned reluctant heroes trope. But, for me, the story spent way too much time with them all very far apart (for lack of better words). By the climax of the story, at least 3 out of the 5 main characters I’d say fit the zero to hero bill.

I will say Birmingham has created an elegant future. Every detail was so concrete and believable, even if I didn’t quiet understand the jargon being thrown around. The world of The Cruel Stars is unique in every facet of an imagined future. Throw in a rather philosophical question about humanity and life and you’ve got one wild story to contend with in the most astonishing way.

I don’t know if this will turn into a series – the ending certainly suggests otherwise. But if the story continued I’d follow. I feel invested and want to see more of these characters and their fight against such a formidable adversary. There is an unknown aftermath to The Cruel Stars that’s begging to be told.

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