Review: Stars Uncharted
Nika Rik Terri is known as one of the best body modders (as in she modifies human bodies with her machines) in the galaxy. But even those famous for their abilities can make dumb decisions: like, say, hook up with a man who becomes an abusive boyfriend. She makes a business deal with his boss so her ex-boyfriend will leave the planet and harass other people instead. Unfortunately she ends up on the run anyway after her ex’s “co-worker” threatens Nika’s life.
Josune was recently hired as assistant engineer on the spaceship The Road to the Goberling, but she’s there to spy for her boss, the captain of the Hassim, who wants to learn something only Captain Roystan will know. But when the Hassim arrives suddenly out of nullspace with company men on board (think pirate mentality but with corporate backing) and the original crew dead, Josune suddenly finds herself in a predicament.
But neither woman is without resources or smarts, and they must use all their wits to come out of this alive.
STARS UNCHARTED by S.K. Dunstall may not have been on your radar unless you’re familiar with their first novels in the Linesman series (start with LINESMAN here). The sister duo are growing as a writing team because STARS UNCHARTED steps everything up a notch: the characterization, the twisty plotline, the tension, the tech. It’s all a glorious conglomeration of these elements, presented to us in the neat package of a standalone novel. Horray!
Told from Nika and Josune’s PoV, they begin their stories worlds apart. But as events unfold, their paths cross, and when they do, everything explodes. They need each other if they’re going to live through being chased down for the company’s own unscrupulous reasons.
Nika and Josune may be our PoV narrators, with the chapters switching between them, but there’s also a supporting cast who are vital to the story. There’s Captain Roystan, a simple cargo runner whose leadership style, skillset, and moral compass help keep everyone around them centered. There’s Snow, the young modder Nika helps escape from being roughed up by a protection racket. There’s Carlos, The Road‘s engineer. And Jaques, the cook who keeps Roystan alive despite his delicate stomach (something which piques Nika’s curiosity…). There are villains, of course, whom we don’t see much of, but whose motivations and behaviors are recognizable and sufficiently despicable. The character interactions were well done and showcases characters way better than any physical description would — and since a main character is a body modder, physical appearance can change pretty easily.
I enjoyed Nika and Josune as the narrators, each with their own distinct view of events and people flavoring their narratives. Nika views the world through the lens of her profession and as a result sees everything with a critical eye and the goal to make it better. Josune’s world-weary attitude is countered by the mysterious Roystan, and her character takes longer to unfurl; her character arc is more subtle than Nika’s or Snow’s, but is no less satisfying. They all learn from each other and become a team in a situation so dire one wonders how they’ll ever get out of it.
Has there been SF with body modifications before? Sure. Has there been corporate piracy? Loads, it isn’t a new concept. I’m not claiming STARS UNCHARTED is groundbreaking, that the villains have unique motivations, or that the story is perfect, but Dunstall weaves together plot threads and characters as they deal with the fallout of their lives. I especially love how tech/culture/setting is interwoven into the storyline. There’s a little bit of a learning curve for the first few chapters, and as we switch back and forth between Nika and Josune you’ll wonder what’s going on since their stories seem unrelated. Be patient. Dunstall does an admirable job of keeping the story moving forward at a consistent pace while also keeping us up-to-date on the worldbuiding with all its technology, worlds, culture, and conflicts. It’s all very engaging and what once would expect from space operas.
I decided to give STARS UNCHARTED a Love rating even though it isn’t perfect (at least, not in the way a Bujold space opera can be perfect). The fight scenes are choppy, with staccato prose that moves the action forward without many frills. There are a few times when character behavior stretches believability. And there are plenty of questions about the science that is unexplained: Mind and body switching that changes them back in 24 hours…how exactly does this work? Elements from other planets we can use in Marvel-like fashion? Still. I didn’t let that stop me from reading into the wee hours.
I loved the fun story and characters. I hope you will, too.
- Recommended Age: 14+
- Language: None
- Violence: A handful of combat and abuse scenes; domestic abuse; otherwise space fights
- Sex: Vague references
We also recommend their Linesman series. Read our review for the first book, LINESMAN: EBR reviews. And while STARS UNCHARTED can be considered a standalone, there will be a continuation in October 2019.