Ignite the Stars

Maura Milan’s Ignite the Stars (2018) came to me as a gift with a glowing review. So, I saved it for a day when I could just immerse myself in a fictional world without being disturbed. After having been buried in a pile of books that are compelling but heavy on the heart for a while, it was nice to have such an exhilarating reading experience that gave me an adrenaline rush. Immediately upon finishing the book, I looked up to see if there was a sequel. The good news is that the second installment, Eclipse the Stars (2019), will be coming out this September! Luckily, I won’t be suffering long. Even when I have a reading list that seems to have no end, I am so bad at waiting for a sequel once I get hooked on a series…sigh.

As one might guess from the eye-catching cover, Ignite the Stars is a YA science fiction set in space. Unlike those who grew up in the United States, neither Star Wars nor Star Trek has been a huge part of my childhood, though I came to appreciate both as an adult. Die-hard fans of Star Wars / Star Trek might call me blasphemous, but I loved that Milan’s debut offered a blend of both canons. Moreover, Ia Cōcha, who adorns the cover, is a badass POC female character with a dark sense of humor that will grow on the readers. Here is a short introduction to Ia provided on the covers:

Everyone in the universe knows his name. Everyone in the universe fears him. But no one realizes that notorious outlaw Ia Cocha is a seventeen-year-old girl.

A criminal mastermind and unrivaled pilot, Ia has spent her life terrorizing the Olympus Commonwealth, the imperialist nation that destroyed her home. When the Commonwealth captures her and her true identity is exposed, they see Ia’s age and talent as an opportunity: by forcing her to serve them, they will prove that no one is beyond their control.

Soon, Ia is trapped at the Commonwealth’s military academy, desperately plotting her escape. But new acquaintances—including Brinn, a seemingly average student with a closely-held secret, and their charming Flight Master, Knives—cause Ia to question her own alliances. Can she find a way to escape the Commonwealth’s clutches before these bonds deepen?

In this exhilarating edge-of-your-seat sci-fi adventure—perfect for fans of The Lunar Chronicles—debut author Maura Milan introduces our world to a thrilling new heroine.

It has almost become a norm in young adult fiction to have empowering female protagonists. Nonetheless, I loved that Ia is a character that I haven’t wanted to yell at in a long, long time. She has her flaws as is often the case with teenage heroes who believes they are invincible. However, I found Ia fascinating due to her complex moral compass and her ability to live with her sins, make amends, and learn from her mistakes. It’ll be interesting to follow how Ia and her relationships with two other POV characters, Brinn and Knives, develop over the course of the series.

In the world of Ignite the Stars, the known universe is mostly in control of the Olympus Commonwealth, which is an empire ruled by two queens. Although the Uranium War that decimated several planets has ended by the beginning of the book, OC is nowhere near ceasing its military expansion. It is at that precise moment that Milan pulls us into the world that she has built, which resonates so much with our current political climate. The influx of refugees (Tawnies, Makolions, Dvvins etc.) into the capital star system causes the conservative political parties of the Commonwealth to push for a racist and xenophobic agenda, which leads to mob violence against those who are visibly identifiable as a foreign other. In addition, there are rumors that a slaver nation called the Armadas are planning to wage a war against the Commonwealth. At this point, there is no good and bad side as innocent civilians in the Fringe are left to their own devices.

Upon her capture on a Tawny refugee ship, Ia is sent to the Commonwealth’s most prestigious military academy, Aphelion, to be used in the service of imperialist propaganda instead of being left to die in a prison camp. It is there at Aphelion where she meets Brinn and Knives. I loved the dynamic between this unlikely trio that consists of a rebel, an assimilationist, and a bystander.

 

* spoiler alert *

 

Especially, I appreciated the careful attention paid to Brinn as a character, who is a half-Tawny with a birth right citizenship. At first, she firmly believes in the values of the Commonwealth and tries to hide her heritage by dying her naturally navy blue hair into brown and making mistakes on her exams. Furthermore, she volunteers to become a soldier of the Royal Star Fleet in order to prove her loyalty. Yet, she gradually begins to doubt the empire’s values the more she spends time with her roommate Ia. Therefore, I absolutely loved her final transformation towards the end of the book.

As everyone would probably agree, Knives is the more predictable character of the two though nonetheless charming for it. I liked that he represents many of the bystanders who know enough to distrust the empire but do not confront their own complicities. However, he, too, is prompted into action when the crisis hits. I am very curious as to how the romance between Ia and Knives will survive this morally complex world. I hope it brings some unexpected twists. But I guess I’ll have to patiently wait for Eclipse the Skies to find out 🙂

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