Title: Light Years
Author: Kass Morgan
Genre: YA, Sci-Fi
Date of Publication: 9th October, 2018
Word/Page Count: 384pages (hardcover)
Synopsis: (from Goodreads)
Reeling from the latest attack by a mysterious enemy, the Quatra Fleet Academy is finally admitting students from every planet in the solar system after centuries of exclusivity.
Hotshot pilot Vesper, an ambitious Tridian citizen, dreams of becoming a captain – but when she loses her spot to a brilliant, wisecracking boy from the wrong side of the asteroid belt, it makes her question everything she thought she knew. Growing up on the toxic planet Deva, Cormak will take any chance he can get to escape his dead-end life and join the Academy – even if he has to steal someone’s identity to do it. Arran was always considered an outsider on icy Chetire, always dreaming of something more than a life working in the mines. Now an incoming cadet, Arran is looking for a place to belong – he just never thought that place would be in the arms of a Tridian boy. And Orelia is hiding a dark secret – she’s infiltrated the Academy to complete a mission, one that threatens the security of everyone there. But if anyone finds out who she really is, it’ll be her life on the line.
These cadets will have to put their differences aside and become a team to defend their world from a cunning enemy – but the danger might be lurking closer to home than they think…
I wanted to read this because of the diverse characters, and Light Years did not disappoint on that front. Aside from the gay relationship hinted in the blurb, we had a character with a prosthetic leg who was shown to have a fulfilling and prestigious career, racial diversity and also an examination of class differences now that the Academy is including citizens from the ‘lesser’ planets into its hallowed halls, to the dismay of some of the elite!
I didn’t expect the latter and was pleasantly surprised at how it was incorporated with a great level of nuance with subtle nods at the characters’ different backgrounds, for eg. a wealthy privileged Tridian automatically offering a handshake to a Devan character to whom this was a foreign concept, as Devans grow up in a toxic environment where they would never expose themselves to harm like that.
While I enjoyed the setup with the interesting character archetypes and in-built tension, I felt that some of the potential there wasn’t fulfilled. Surprisingly my favorite elements at the start (Orelia’s mission, Arran/Dash) lost their appeal by the end as I didn’t buy into the emotional reality that drove those characters to make certain decisions. I know what the author intended to depict, but there needed to be a more solid foundation to back up the way the characters acted as it wasn’t believable to me. Orelia’s arc in particular was unfathomable and I wish the author had shown us more to justify her actions.
In contrast, the characters I was less interested in (Cormack and Vesper) became more endearing and I was fully invested in their journeys by the time I finished the story. I thought their interactions were really fun and the banter made me smile, plus there were some moments of vulnerability and bonding between the ordinarily prickly Vesper and cocky Cormack that had me rooting for those crazy kids.
But the main problem for me was that the focus seemed to be on the romantic entanglements of the main four characters, and not enough attention was paid to developing platonic bonds between them. I expected them to become a family by working together to defy other people’s expectations and prove they were worthy, but the simulated space battles that were hyped at the start as determining their fate at the Academy barely figured into the story. Dare Mighty Things is a great example of teenagers in a futuristic book working together to solve complex problems to qualify for a space mission where you actually see the obstacles they face in detail and how the characters bond through adversity. The quartet in this book are basically just classmates that sit together in Math for all the relevance of their squadron exercises.
I struggled with rating because of my mixed feelings. I started off loving it immensely with the introduction of each of the characters and their interesting conflicts, then my enthusiasm waned in the middle when there was little cohesion between their disparate storylines and the introduction of a questionable teacher/student romance.
But then the end gripped me and I’m anxious to see what happens in book 2, so I consider that to be very effective writing! Normally I hate cliffhangers and feel they’re such a cheat, but I have to compliment the author on wrapping up most of the main character arcs instead of dragging them out for another book, and without going into spoilers, the cliffhanger was somewhat inevitable and I liked it was based in a character moment rather than ‘everyone’s in jeopardy, tune in next year to see who survives!‘
In the end, this was an easy light read and I’d recommend it to those who are normally wary of sci-fi because there isn’t a great deal of technobabble or dense world-building to grasp. It’s more of a high school drama that happens to take place in space, and while I did like it, I really wish it had lived up to its potential and leaned more into the sci-fi elements that were presented because it could’ve been amazing.
Personal Rating: 3 out of 5 kitties recommend this book.
Disclaimer: I voluntarily read and reviewed a digital copy free from Hachette Children’s Books, Australia via NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.