Genre | Science fiction and fantasy
Page #s | 372
Publishing Date | September 2021
Good Omens meets The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet in this defiantly joyful adventure set in California’s San Gabriel Valley, with cursed violins, Faustian bargains, and queer alien courtship over fresh-made donuts.
Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six.
When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka’s ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She’s found her final candidate.
But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn’t have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan’s kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul’s worth. And maybe something as small as a warm donut is powerful enough to break a curse as vast as the California coastline.
As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe for is found.
Light from Uncommon Stars should have been my jam, but unfortunately, I just never connected with the book. I mean, with a summary like “Ageless bisexual alien from space who now runs a donut shop falls in love with a middle-aged Japanese lesbian who sells souls to a demon in exchange for her own back, and if that weren’t enough, there’s also a runaway trans girl who becomes a violin prodigy,” I was all in! I am so mad that this perfect idea didn’t land better for me.
The good stuff is on the tin – it’s a wild mashup of genres that work together because why not? The diversity is all-encompassing, and no one blinks when the alien lady reveals that her true form is purple with two elbows.
Where it falters is a little harder to parse out. Personally, I was not a fan of the way it was written. There are a lot of short scenes from a lot of perspectives. I prefer a story that digs deeper into one, maybe two, points of view. More than that, I found the internal logic of the book lacking in some ways. I’m down for a wild ride with unexpected standards of behaviour, but they need to be consistent. For instance, Lan bloops her son Marcus out of (temporary) existence for murdering two people (this is seriously downplayed, by the way), and no one cares. But Lan’s subsequent desire to duplicate her AI daughter to take him to space leads to a freak out from multiple people that ends with her atoning for this egregious decision. I love that the book pushes back on the personhood of AI, but then…shouldn’t Marcus also be valued similarly?
I also couldn’t fully track with the book’s handling of trans trauma. On the one hand, I admire Aoki’s unflinching depiction of a trans girl’s abusive family, abusive friends, and the ways in which she resorts to sex work to get by. It was not my favorite, because this is a vaguely feel-good book in most other areas, and then BAM, rape. But the book ends with a throwaway line that Katrina is living with a rich guy who we saw greet her by sexually assaulting her? That’s not a satisfying ending from my perspective.
In the end, I wasn’t a fan of this book, but everyone else seems to adore it, so perhaps I am missing something!
Who Do I Recommend This Book To?
Honestly, I don’t know! Popular Books of 2021 lists are saying to give it to everyone, but I truly didn’t like it. Try it if you’re intrigued, I guess!
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