These days I really only have time to read by listening to audiobooks in the car, but I'm thoroughly enjoying the experience. It's really changed the way I feel about books.
Especially one like Starflight, which I might have passed on reading before. Listening to it, on the other hand?
Starflight by Melissa Landers is the story of Solara Brooks, a 17-year-old ex-con looking to get off Earth and make a new start on the fringes of the universe. Her only way out to the fringe, however, is if she gets hired on a ship making the trip - and no one wants to hire an ex-con (especially when criminals' crimes are tattooed on their knuckles for all to see). Well, no one except Solara's former classmate Doran Spaulding, the holier-than-thou heir to a fuel fortune who thinks making Solara miserable as his servant on their months-long voyage out to the fringe seems like a splendid idea.
I'll admit it - I did not expect to love this book as much as I did. The story itself is very Firefly-esque, with Solara and Doran eventually ending up on a beat up ship with a ragtag crew of less-than-reputable types just trying to make their way in the world. But it's the characters that really changed things for me, and made me see Starflight as more than just a YA copycat.
Solara is genuinely cool. She went to Doran's school based on her merit as a student, not money, and did really well until her unfortunately conviction ended her schooling early. This makes her a delightful mix of street smart and naive - she knows how easily people will judge her for her mistakes, but she also believes that the fringe (the only place the government can't control) is going to be a much nicer place than it is purely because it doesn't judge you for being a criminal. She's capable - a mechanic by trade, she ingratiates herself with the ragtag crew because she can't help fixing a problem when she sees it. And she's resourceful - the methods she uses throughout the book to get where she wants to be are clever and delightfully entertaining.
Then we have Doran, who starts out as the smarmy lead of every Korean drama ever - wealthy, coddled, and completely unaware of his own privilege. But he's not un-teachable, and there are reasons for the way he thinks that point to a past he'd rather forget. And his desires for the future are a lot more earnest and caring than he'd like to let on.
The camaraderie that develops between the two is so organic and believable that I was kind of shocked I was reading a YA novel, a genre in which insta-love is prevalent. In this case, Solara and Doran have both pre-judged each other very harshly, and have to learn about their own biases and privilege in order to understand each other and themselves.
Then there's the amazing cast of supporting characters - the Captain, who coddles a sugar glider named Acorn and is the Dad of the busted up ship called the Banshee; Renny, the first mate and Mom whose kleptomania doesn't keep anyone from loving him; Cassia, the girly-girl ship hand with no filter; and Kane, the flirtatious co-ship-hand who flirts with everything that moves. We get to learn a lot about each of them throughout the book, and the way they met and why they end up on the Banshee. You really feel as if these characters had a life before the book, that they were not created purely for Solara and Doran to royally screw up their lives.
(Which they do. Shenanigans, shall we put it, do ensue.)
In terms of the audiobook, I wish it had been read by two readers - we get some of the story from Doran's perspective, and while it's all in third person, I would have liked to hear Doran's parts in a male (or at least different) voice. It was jarring the first time it switched POVs. Other than that, though, I loved the experience of listening to it and I think I enjoyed it more because I was hearing it instead of reading.
The only thing Starflight did a little strangely was the timeline - there are a lot of jumps and skips through time in this book, and some of them feel a little unnatural only because this story is so focused on the development of the relationships between characters. When the story moves forward a week, or a month, all I want to know is what happened between everyone during those times missed - and it seems so unlikely that nothing of import happened. So I guess my complaint, really, is that the book is too short - because I'd listen to hours of this crew getting to know each other as they stagger through space.
The world Melissa Landers' sets up is fairly straightforward sci-fi, but unique enough to have some interesting twists and turns. There are space pirates, bounty hunters, and government conspiracies like any good sci-fi story should have. But at its heart, Starflight is at its best when it stays small, focusing on this group of broken people fixing each other. Not revolutionary by any means, but boy does it warm your heart anyway.