Reviews

Sky Without Stars by Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell (Book 1)

# of Pages: 579

Time it took me to read: 5 Days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 83

Rating: 4 out of 5

Chatine Renard has been a crook all her life. In the Frets of the capital city on the planet Laterre, she must steal, lie, and con as a boy to survive. If anyone knew she was a girl, it would be off to the blood bordels for her, where she’d be forced to sell the nutrients in her blood for money. But she, like everyone else in the Third Estate, dreams of a better life. And she’s so close she can taste it, all she needs is one last, big con and she’ll have the money for passage off of Laterre.

Marcellus is desperate to fill the shoes he was born into. He is constantly in his grandfather’s shadow, the great General of Laterre, and next in line to be commander. That is, if he can show everyone that he is not a traitor like his father, a famous terrorist currently serving life in prison for treason and murder. But when rebellion starts to brew on Laterre, will Marcellus stick to the status quo, or find that he has more in common with rebels than the Regime he is sworn to uphold?

Alouette has lived underground as long as she can remember. Safe from the turmoil on the planet’s surface, Alouette and her father live a simple life with the sisters, an order sworn to a quiet life of protecting the precious books brought over from the old world, the only written history on Laterre. Alouette wants nothing more than to join this order and dedicate her life to the library that would certainly be destroyed if ever discovered by the Regime. But when Alouette braves the world above to help someone in need, she’ll find all is not what it seems. She’ll have to question everything she’s ever known if she’s to discover the truth: about who she is, and how she and her father came to live among the sisters.

The stories of Chatine, Marcellus, and Aloutte become inextricably woven as a rebellion works to rise again, despite the current Regime’s desperation to cling to the way things have always been: with the Third Estate poor, hungry, and submissive, while the First Estate plays and the Second Estate rules. In this imaginative retelling of the classic story Les Miserables, you’ll find that nothing is as it seems, until you’re sure that the only thing you know is that you know nothing at all.

Review (SPOILER FREE!):

Howdy friends! Normally here I’d do a brief review and then a summary, since this is Book 1, but the main reason I do summaries is so that I can review them before diving into the sequel, a little gift for my future self. However, I have learned that Book 2 in The System Divine series HAS A SUMMARY published in the front of the book, which is the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard. So I’m just gonna do a regular review for ya’ll.

I have to start by saying that I am a HUGE Les Miserables (Les Mis) fan. I’ve only seen the stage production once, but I’m obsessed with the 2012 move, obsessed with the music, etc. So I fully read this book knowing it was a Les Mis retelling, and looking for every detail that they threw in, every Easter egg. And boy were there plenty, so if you read this review and know nothing of Les Mis, sorry, you might not know why I’m so excited or who all I’m referencing as the characters. So I’ll just leave this here for anyone interested in reading this book, but is unfamiliar with the source material: You should read it anyway! It’s a great story, and it doesn’t require any Les Mis knowledge to enjoy.

Moving on to the main characters. For those Les Mis fans out there, I’ll make it real simple (this is not a spoiler, it’s literally clear from the first time you meet these characters): Chatine = Eponine, Marcellus = Marius, and Alouette = Cosette. They are the three protagonists in this story, as well as in part of Les Mis. And while other memorable character archetypes are present throughout (Marius’s grandfather, the Thenardiers, Javert, Gavroche, and of course Jean Valjean), they don’t all play the roles you’d expect, and their relationships to each other aren’t all the same either. There are some interesting original characters as well, so it’s not a mirror image to the source material.

I thoroughly enjoyed the stories of all three protagonists. I occasionally struggle with stories with casts that I call “in-betweeners”. In my experience, one to two narrators is normal, and indicative of a small to medium cast of characters. Then there is large cast, with the narration changing between 4+ characters, often giving more of an omnipresent narrator or “movie” vibe. I enjoy large cast books, if done well, but read mostly books that stick to one to two perspectives. With three protagonists and thus three primary narrators, this book is definitely stuck between small and large cast. But it totally worked for me, I found myself engaged in the storylines of all three protagonists, which is tough to accomplish.

I’m going to speak briefly about the plot, and how similar or dissimilar it is to the source material. I’ll be brief, because I don’t want to give any spoilers. But I thought these authors did a great job of blending original plot and ideas into this story, while still being true to the source materials. There are some areas that are totally original, for example Marcellus’s backstory (although, tbh, I’m basing that off of my movie/stage production knowledge of Les Mis, not Victor Hugo’s original novel, which I have never read). However, there are some parts that are as by-the-book (or by-the-movie, rather), as it gets. I’ll not reveal which parts, because that’s obviously a spoiler. And there are just some little details that gave me a thrill to read, such as the prisoner number 24601 being used (Jean Valjean’s prisoner number), and the fact that Alouette is a singer. There’s also an awesome little scene that gave me big “Lovely Ladies” vibes, which is one of my favorite songs, so that was *chef’s kiss*.

Alrighty, world-building. I was absolutely HERE for the concept of “Les Mis, but instead of 19th century France, make it a space dystopia that is super based in French culture”. I thought the authors did a great job of not doing a lot of info-dumping, even though they did include a lot of lingo and there was a lot of world building / history to be done. I also mostly thought the little bits of French that they threw in there were fun, even if some of the substitutions did make me giggle/roll my eyes a little bit. For example the sentence “I had never felt so stupide”, like why would you not just say “Stupid”? Anyway, that’s obviously nitpicky, I overall enjoyed the vibe very much.

And now, finally, the reason that I knocked off a star: pacing. This was a long book and I FELT it. I don’t really feel like much happened in the first half, at all, besides the minor event that triggered the story taking off. There is a lot of mystery and intrigue, which is great, but it’s the kind of stuff that you’re like “I’m not going to learn the answers to this until the very end, or even maybe not until the next book”, which makes it really hard to be eager to turn page after page when you’ve still got 300 pages until the end. I think it was probably slow-paced by necessity, there was a lot of backstory, but I do wish there had been more action sprinkled in to keep me going through all the backstory. I have a feeling the next book is going to be much quicker, so I’m stoked, but I had to take off a star because a book that is almost six hundred pages and super slow until almost the last quarter is kinda rough.

Overall, I loved it. I can really see the next book being a five out of five for me, and I’m very excited that the sequel is already out. I probably won’t get to it for a while, but I’m really looking forward to when I do get the chance to pick it up. Once again, I recommend checking out this book, even if you’re not a Les Mis fan, but ESPECIALLY if you are.

Now, I’m off to watch the 2012 Les Miserables movie for the millionth time, see ya’ll next time!

If you liked Sky Without Stars, try these other creative retellings of classic stories:

Troy by Adele Geras is a retelling of Homer’s Iliad with unique perspectives

Thorn by Intisar Khanani is a retelling of the classic Goose Girl fairytale

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong is a dark, gangster spin on Romeo and Juliet

Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B. Larson is a fantastical retelling of the Swan Lake story

7 thoughts on “Sky Without Stars by Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell (Book 1)

  1. Well, I am another HUGE Les Mis fan- watched the musical film so much that I wore it out. Now, own my second copy. 10th and 25th concert films= own them as well. Stage show= six times (was kinda of a timing thing). Even read the book, as in the unabridged. Huge fan- as in being obsessed.

    Retellings?- well, I get kinda of nervous around them

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    1. I completely understand your perspective on retellings. I get nervous around Greek mythology retellings, as I love the Greco Roman classics so much I minored in it.

      But this retelling really is much it’s own thing, it’s like the authors used the stories of Eponine, Marius, and Cosette as a base, and then let their imaginations run wild. I have no idea if the series (it’s a trilogy) is going to end up with the same kind of tragic ending as the original material, but I’m having a great time reading it.

      I highly recommend it, as I said. You’ll have to let me know if you end up giving it a try 🙂

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      1. I actually started to love Greek Mythology because of Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

        Retellings- just harder when it comes to books I love. However, there is one retelling I learned to love last year- Spinning Silver (Rumplestilskin)

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      2. Always love to meet another Greek myth fan!

        My personal guidelines for a good retelling are that they must take one of two paths: be really true to the source material OR be abstract enough that it I can stray from the source material without feeling like a betrayal. I’d put Sky Without Stars firmly in the second category for me.

        I’ll have to look into the one about Rumplestilskin, I actually have a favorite author coming out with a retelling of that story this year as well: Gilded by Marissa Meyer. I love a good fairytale retelling, and Marissa Meyer is one of the best at it, IMO.

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      3. Spinning Silver feels so original- you see aspects of the original story, but for the most part easy to forget it is a retelling. That is how I felt.

        If you actually SS, I would recommend Uprooted- both are by the same author

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