This is our second review by Eliza Jo Brandt. Find her on Twitter at @eljbrandt.
Can a girl who risks her life for books and an alien who loves forbidden pop music work together to save humanity?
Two years ago, a misunderstanding between the leaders of Earth and the invading Ilori resulted in the deaths of one-third of the world’s population.
Seventeen-year-old Janelle “Ellie” Baker survives in an Ilori-controlled center in New York City. Deemed dangerously volatile because of their initial reaction to the invasion, humanity’s emotional transgressions are now grounds for execution. All art, books and creative expression are illegal, but Ellie breaks the rules by keeping a secret library. When a book goes missing, Ellie is terrified that the Ilori will track it back to her and kill her.
Born in a lab, M0Rr1S (Morris) was raised to be emotionless. When he finds Ellie’s illegal library, he’s duty-bound to deliver her for execution. The trouble is, he finds himself drawn to human music and in desperate need of more. They’re both breaking the rules for love of art—and Ellie inspires the same feelings in him that music does.
Ellie’s—and humanity’s—fate rests in the hands of an alien she should fear. M0Rr1S has a lot of secrets, but also a potential solution—thousands of miles away. The two embark on a wild and dangerous road trip with a bag of books and their favorite albums, all the while making a story and a song of their own that just might save them both. The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow
Title: The Sound of Stars | Author: Alechia Dow | Pub. Date: 2020-Feb-25 | Pages: 400 | Genre: YA Sci-Fi | Language: English | Source: Received an arc from the publisher | Starred Review
The Sound of Stars Review
Janelle Baker is struggling through life after the alien invasion. Earth hasn’t been the same for a long time. First, the aliens arrived. Then the war began. The aliens could make people’s brains explode with their thoughts, so humans didn’t stand much of a chance. Although a handful of resistance cells are still in operation, the people Janelle is with in New York City don’t hold out much hope for freedom.
The human survivors have been consolidated into housing areas. Janelle’s building hosts the few remaining humans in what was once a thriving urban center, but they are under armed guard. To make matters worse, the aliens started giving some humans shots. These people have lost touch with themselves. They follow the Ilori rules to the letter and participate in executions.
Janelle’s dad is one of the people getting these shots. Her mom is coping by using alcohol. Home isn’t a sanctuary but all of her activities outside their apartment are monitored closely.
Simply owning a book or a record is a reason for an infraction. The punishment for two infractions is death.
In spite of this, Janelle continues to operate a secret library. She lends out books to others in her building. When she discovers a book is missing from her collection she panics. Janelle is persuaded to attend a secret party and agrees to go. While there, her friend is busy making out with a boy and Janelle has a strange experience of her own.
And Ilori talks to her in her mind and tells her to come to her storage unit, which just happens to be where she keeps her secret library.
The Ilori is named M0Rr1S. To keep things simple he tells Janelle to call him Morris. Janelle is afraid for her life, but Morris assures her that he only wants her to find him music. Music makes him feel alive and he loves listening to it. The problem is, the Ilori made music illegal and destroyed much of the music that existed when they took over earth. Morris knows there are people who still have music and he wants to find as much as he can.
Janelle doesn’t know if she can trust Morris. Morris has fears of his own. He is lab made, which means he isn’t considered true Ilori. He isn’t an equal and if the Ilori discover he’s listening to music and feeling emotions he can be put to death.
Janelle and Morris form an uneasy alliance. When a racist neighbor reports Janelle for an infraction she’s sentenced to death and Morris must decide if he will let her die or risk his own life by saving hers.
Although aliens have invaded and it’s the end of the world, The Sound of Stars is infused with optimism. The author manages to touch on issues of racism and class bias while still projecting a sense of hopefulness. Hope that people can change. That people will learn. That things will get better. Perhaps it’s because underneath all the reasons to distrust each other. Janelle and Morris find a way to not only become friends, but to risk their lives to try to save the world.
Dow doesn’t dwell on combat. She builds tension throughout, but also knows how to let a human teenage girl and a comparably aged Ilori labmade have some fun and fall in love. Janelle is still able to let go of her prejudices and fears and put her trust in someone she’s been told to fear and hate. Every human they encounter is a threat to her and Morris because they aren’t willing to take that chance. Morris is under constant threat from his family and the Iloria labmade he’s expected to marry. He also has to decide whether or not to trust Janelle with the whole truth, knowing that if the wrong people find out what he’s really up to, it could jeopardize the lives of the ones he loves the most.
This is a great, fun story. One of the best things about it is that it throws in a lot of unexpected twists. Even when the ultimate goal emerges, even when you think you know what’s going to happen, you don’t. There are also some things included throughout that might not make sense immediately, but the author pulls everything together for a satisfying ending.
Although I like to avoid spoilers, there is one thing that should be mentioned about the ending.
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Lilyn G is the founder of Sci-Fi & Scary, and leader of the Coolthulhu Crew. She does book and film reviews for both genres the site focuses on. Her tastes run towards creature features, hard science fiction, and lots and lots of action. She also has a soft spot for middle-grade fiction that rears its head frequently.
Though no longer involved with Ladies of Horror Fiction due to other responsibilities and a too-full plate, she was one of the original 4 co-founders.
Feel free to chat her up on Twitter as long as you aren’t hitting her up to review your book.