Review - Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray


Abel remembers waking up in such a tank. Mansfield was waiting for him, hands outstretched, his smile the very first thing Abel saw.
However, most brains aren't kindled into consciousness until they have been shipped and sold. They are sealed into translucent bags and transported like any other kind of cargo. Codes stamped onto the bags' seals reveal model, manufacturer index number, destination, and owner. Abel has watched their distribution many times, and has never understood why he finds the impersonal, efficient shipping process so ... distasteful.
Now, on Kismet, he sees that human beings can be treated this way, too.
(Defy the Stars, Claudia Gray, PP.119 - 120.) 

Noemi Vidal is a soldier in the Genesis army. Genesis is a newer, healthier world, and its citizens are determined to keep it that way. Earth is dying, and would evacuate its citizens to Genesis, but would make no plans to ensure Genesis was not destroyed too. Genesis will do anything possible to protect its planet … even kill its citizens in a war with Earth.

With days until she is deployed as part of a mass-suicide mission designed to buy Genesis more time, Noemi finds Abel. Abel is a mech, but he is not like any other mech designed on Earth. 25 models are known to exisit – their capacities are limited, and they each fulfil a specific role. Abel encompasses all of those roles, and some special abilities of his own … like high intelligence, and the ability to dream … both of which break the laws of cybernetics.

Abel might be the thing Noemi has wished for. With his assistance, she will be able to destroy the gate between Earth and Genesis before the Masada Run – the suicide mission which will kill herself and her comrades. Abel’s programming means that without his creator present, he has to obey the highest ranking human in proximity. That human is Noemi. But is Abel restricted by his programming? What would he choose to do if he was not?

The pair fly off in search of the object they will need to destroy the gate. In the process, they see the state of the universe from the perspective of different people from different planets. I thought this was interesting, although found the worlds to be too narrowly defined – one planet explores unequal distribution of wealth, for example, while another explores distribution of resources. Some of the most interesting characters are unallied to any planet, and trying to find their place in a universe which appears to no need of them.

Abel’s relationship with his creator Burton Mansfield is fascinating. Abel thinks of Mansfield as his father, and obedience to Mansfield is Abel’s ‘prime directive’. The relationship is less like that of child and parent than human to God-figure. This is exaggerated by the fact that – for most of the book – we do not know whether Mansfield survived the battle of 30 years ago, the same battle which saw Abel abandoned on Genesis. For most of the book, Mansfield is a theoretical figure. He may or may not be there. Abel’s understanding of himself develops when he is forced to think about why he feels an allegiance to Mansfield.

Noemi grapples with the idea of God straight-on – most people on Genesis are religious, but Noemi has her doubts. Noemi’s development as a character is less conclusive. At one point, she made a huge shift in her approach to Abel, then did something to another character which put her ethical development into dispute. This is contentious – the character in question was a mech. Without any spoilers, Noemi thinks Abel has something other mechs lack, but I felt the thing which made Abel different was never proven to be something other Mechs might not develop. After all, we meet Mechs who have been ‘upgraded’ to something between standard intelligence and Abel’s own.

I welcome the conversation this provokes. Many readers I have spoken to on Twitter have said religion is relevant to teenage life, and should be more prominent in books for young readers. Plenty of interesting questions were raised – for me, the most interesting point was how mech-like many of the humans were at the hands of their politicians.

Page Count: 425
ISBN: 9781471406362

I received my copy in a draw from ReadersFirst. This does not affect the honesty of my review. With thanks to ReadersFirst and Hot Key Books. 

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