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Starswept Paperback – August 29, 2018
"The Other Woman" by Sandie Jones
“The Other Woman is an absorbing thriller with a great twist. A perfect beach read.” ― Kristin Hannah, #1 New York Times bestselling author of "The Great Alone" Pre-order today
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About the Author
Mary Fan lives in New Jersey, where she is currently working in financial marketing. She has also resided in North Carolina, Hong Kong, and Beijing, China. She has been an avid reader for as long as she can remember and especially enjoys the infinite possibilities and out-of-this-world experiences of science fiction and fantasy. Mary has a B.A. in Music, specializing in composition, from Princeton University and enjoys writing songs as much as writing stories. She also enjoys kickboxing, opera singing, and exploring new things-she'll try almost anything once.
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Starswept has elements of the traditional YA dystopia but manages to stretch itself so far beyond the typical that it hardly feels like a member of the genre. In Act I, we get glimpses of the debt-ridden Earth, but the spotlight is on the Artists of the world, who create beauty for their alien patrons. Mary Fan's lush descriptions of ballets, orchestras, and aerials show a love for the classical arts that cannot help but draw the reader in. Our heroine Iris Lei has a deep attachment to her viola and a passion for her music that transcend the meager circumstances she hopes to avoid. It is clear very early that Iris is not a traditional dystopian heroine who is going to save her world with her fists. Instead, she uses her quiet passion, courage, and innocence to influence the hearts of those around her.
In Act II, the book moves onto a more traditional sci-fi adventure, but never does it lose the theme of artistry. Iris is forced somewhat out of her comfort zone, but she manages to push herself to her limits without ever doing anything unbelievable.
Altogether, Starswept is a unique and beautiful book, and I greatly look forward to reading the next book in the series.
First, I'd like to call attention to the cover which made me want to read Starswept when I first saw it on Mary Fan's website. It's not only beautiful, but it said to me that it's a science fiction novel about a musician. There aren't very many of those.
I thought that the name Iris was very appropriate. In Greek mythology, Iris is the goddess of the rainbow which represents diversity in the current American cultural context. In a biblical context, the rainbow represents a promise that the biblical deity will not destroy the world by flood. So the rainbow is a hopeful symbol in the dark times that both we and Iris are experiencing.
Mary Fan's "if this goes on" premise asks what would happen if there was an attempt to control or even erase the uniqueness of each artist for corporate purposes. What if the one of a kind experience of a performance didn't matter so much to an audience of aliens who don't value individuality? What would music and musicians become in such a setting? Mary Fan shows us dramatically how artists can be crushed through the eyes of Iris who is determined to escape such a fate.
Fortunately, Iris isn't the only one who struggles against the system in which she is caught. Iris finds her romantic counterpart from among this underground group of rebels. I was rooting for their relationship even though it seemed impossible. Since this is the first book in a series, we don't know whether their cause will succeed. The struggle continues, but the rainbow exemplified by Iris appears as a sign of hope in the sky. For me, Starswept is a strong candidate for best YA novel of 2017.
This story might be a plenty good YA at that point, but this gets a science fiction twist that it is set in the future after Earth has made contact with an alien race that values all the different creative arts disciplines that humans/Earthlings have. The implied political situation is that Earth’s own resources are used up, and the aliens don’t need us for anything technological. What they don’t have is individuality and the soul of art.
The appeal of this book for me as someone who is decidedly not YA is music. I have a music education degree, and when it came time to take the string teaching methods course, I chose viola for my high string. As I read through the first part of the book that takes place in Papilio school, it reminded me of my university time. I had plenty of nostalgia, and because I am immersed in music, I didn’t take anything as unusual. In our music history, the great composers and performers were able to do what they did because of patronage, usually from royalty.
So as a reader, I was a little bit complacent until Iris suddenly ends up on the alien planet in part two of the story. Then for me it became a no holds barred set of reactions the whole way. What I had taken for granted as normal because that is how music worked in the past… no. Fan completely upends it into something I didn’t see coming. I’d like to think I’m a savvy reader, but this was great and a thing where my smug music knowledge actually worked against me. Fan doesn’t let up, either. There’s an action sequence toward the end where Iris is in danger, and I was on the proverbial edge of my seat because I wanted Iris to be successful but I also didn’t want it to be too easy. That would have been a sign of wimpy writing to me, and Mary Fan is no one’s wimpy writer.
The alien race described in the book is telepathic. They can invade each other’s thoughts and control unsuspecting humans with their telepathy. I think this might be one of the things that has caused them not to have Arts the same way humans do. There is too much mental conformity where humans are a little bit wild and on the fringe in their thinking. I don’t know if that was a point the author was trying to make, but if I were arguing lit crit, that’s where I’d go with it.
The book ends satisfactorily, but it’s clear that this is only the beginning. There are clues about what is coming soon for Iris and her new set of friends and accomplices. I will definitely keep my eye out for the sequel and will probably dig into Fan’s other works to keep me occupied until then.
The last thing I have to say about this book is that the cover is gorgeous. How many characters of east Asian descent get YA covers? My guess is not many, but Iris depicted here (by the author’s sister) is beautiful. With her viola and billowing ball gown, she looks as Starswept as the title implies.