ARC Review: Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray

review         book

Book Covertitle: Defy the Stars
author: Claudia Gray
pages: 512
format: Kindle ARC
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 5/5 (from hated to loved) or 8.5/10 (all books I've ever read)
recommended for: Fans of Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza, Firefly, and other high-concept, pretty science-fiction.
Noemi Vidal is a teen soldier from the planet Genesis, once a colony of Earth that's now at war for its independence. The humans of Genesis have fought Earth's robotic "mech" armies for decades with no end in sight.

After a surprise attack, Noemi finds herself stranded in space on an abandoned ship where she meets Abel, the most sophisticated mech prototype ever made. One who should be her enemy. But Abel's programming forces him to obey Noemi as his commander, which means he has to help her save Genesis--even though her plan to win the war will kill him.

Together they embark on a daring voyage through the galaxy. Before long, Noemi begins to realize Abel may be more than a machine, and, for his part, Abel's devotion to Noemi is no longer just a matter of programming.

in depth

  • The basics. This was my first Claudia Gray book and I can promise you it won't be my last. I've been making an effort to read more science-fiction (I watch it way more than read it), and Defy the Stars was exactly what I needed.  It's an epic, sweeping sci-fi with rock solid characters and expansive worldbuilding.  Despite being pretty long, it's well paced. I read it in about one sitting and had the hardest time putting it down. Even when I guessed some of the twists, it was more satisfying than annoying. And that ending destroyed me! In a very "I hope there's a sequel" way.  

  • The set-up. I got a very Interstellar vibe from the plot. Humanity kills Earth. Humanity colonizes other planets in order to survive. In a time when we're rolling back EPA regulations in the US, it felt very topical to be reading about a pollution-filled, devastated Earth and the pristine colony of Genesis, which is, incidentally, at war with Earth because it decided it didn't want to be another planet for Earthlings to destroy. It seems very good-evil at first, but Gray does a great job of inserting moral ambiguity. As Noemi travels to other places and befriends the mech Abel, she learns about the plight of humans in the rest of the worlds: the landless space refugees, starving Earthlings, and privileged few smart or wealthy enough to live in prosperity. 

  • The worlds. The planets weren't wildly different from other sci-fi, but they felt plausible. Genesis with its religious zealotry and collectivism. Earth, scarred and bereft. A resort planet paradise. A mining planet for collecting resources, where only the strong are accepted. A harsh planet with an underground palace of scientific research. I got a good feel of each planet and the array of technology, far advanced from our 21st century stuff but not ridiculous enough to raise eyebrows. The mechs are the most unique, but Gray clearly did enough research on neural networks and cybernetics to give Abel and his brethren adequate verisimilitude.  Yeah, there were some parts of the worldbuilding that were kind of hand-wavey, but I loved the rest too much to perseverate on it. 

  • The adventure. So much going on!  Spaceship battles! Mech battles! Wormholes! Flying through asteroid fields! Being lost in the dark vacuum of space! There are very few lulls in this book, so much so that I actually wanted it to be a little longer.  There are two POVs and several conflicting plot threads:  Abel trying to reunite with his creator, Noemi trying to destroy the gate between Genesis and Earth in time to stop a suicide mission, the Resistance opposing the greed of Earth. Noemi and Abel collect allies along the way. Some of the characters were around too little to feel like more than stand-ins, like the refugee couple; I wanted more depth. Others, like their teen scientist bud and doctor pal, have a rich enough personality and backstory to pop off the page. It's a lot to keep track of, and some balls get dropped, but I was definitely never bored. 

  • The romance. The true crux of the book is Noemi and Abel, and their changing relationship. They're enemies to start. Abel is the fanciest creation of the man responsible for Genesis-killing mechs. Noemi is a Genesis orphan willing to die to save Genesis from Earth. Obviously, they hate each other at first. Hate-to-love is my book-drug. But they're so complex and rich! Abel struggles with the new experiences he's having that feel like flaws in his programming: emotions, desires, things a mech shouldn't have. Noemi goes from seeing Abel as a machine and Earthlings as a threat, black and white, to developing true empathy for and understanding of both. Snarky delicious banter turns from alliance to friendship to a deep connection that develops quickly but organically. I was sold. OTP. 

  • The writing. Gray has a tough job ahead of her: writing a plausible cyborg. She nails it. Abel's voice is distinct from Noemi's, more dry, calculated, and free from emotion-based descriptions. Most of the metaphors are mechanical, as you'd expect. Noemi's perspective is, on the other hand, rich, emotional, intense. The discrepancy narrows slightly as Abel develops humanity, but he never loses his clinical, pragmatic approach. The descriptions are vivid, the dialogue sharp and frequently hysterical (I laughed SO MANY TIMES when Abel was talking about sex and Noemi was just like OMG NO FLEE).  Gray's technical skill is a solid scaffold for a thrilling story. Now I'm just dying for a sequel, because one isn't enough. 

        in a sentence

        Defy the Stars is a sweeping sci-fi epic that explores the nature and fate of humanity with profundity, beauty, and humor. 


        will i read this author again?  Yes! 
        will i continue the series?  I need the sequel like before yesterday 

        Note: I received this copy from the author/publisher in exchange for an honest review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.


        1. I need to read this at some point this month. I'm so glad you loved it because it sounds amazing and I have an ARC I need to read. I really liked Claudia Gray's Firebird trilogy which you should absolutely read.
          Cassi @ My Thoughts Literally

          1. You definitely do because (see above reasons again). Was that the one with the pretty pastel covers? I definitely want to read more of her stuff.

        2. I NEED THIS. NEED. I LOVE SPACE SO MUCH and this sounds so much like me. And I love that Abel is a cyborg. Wow. I don't even know how to adequately express myself at the moment, because after reading your review, I need this.

          1. DUUUUDE YOU TOTALLY NEED TO READ THIS LIKE RIGHT NOW. And then DM me all your feelings!!!

        3. I'm definitely checking this out. Sounds like an enemies to lovers story without overly romanticizing everything and with awesome sci-fi. I'm in!

          1. Yes, that's a great way of putting it! It feels very realistic from a psychological standpoint.

        4. I am hearing so many great things, but I always do when it comes to Gray. Great review!
          Sam @ WLABB

          1. I can't believe this is the first time I'm reading her. Thanks!