Title: Sky Without Stars
Author: Jessica Brody & Joanne Rendell
Series: System Divine #1
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: March 26, 2019
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When the Last Days came, the planet of Laterre promised hope. A new life for a wealthy French family and their descendants. But five hundred years later, it’s now a place where an extravagant elite class reigns supreme; where the clouds hide the stars and the poor starve in the streets; where a rebel group, long thought dead, is resurfacing.
Whispers of revolution have begun—a revolution that hinges on three unlikely heroes…
Chatine is a street-savvy thief who will do anything to escape the brutal Regime, including spy on Marcellus, the grandson of the most powerful man on the planet.
Marcellus is an officer—and the son of a renowned traitor. In training to take command of the military, Marcellus begins to doubt the government he’s vowed to serve when his father dies and leaves behind a cryptic message that only one person can read: a girl named Alouette.
Alouette is living in an underground refuge, where she guards and protects the last surviving library on the planet. But a shocking murder will bring Alouette to the surface for the first time in twelve years…and plunge Laterre into chaos.
All three have a role to play in a dangerous game of revolution—and together they will shape the future of a planet.
As a huge, huge Les Misérables fan, this book was such a relief compared to the other retellings I’ve read. Sky Without Stars takes the plot of Les Mis and hurls it into space. Literally. Weirdly enough, the drastic changes in setting, plot, and character Sky Without Stars made to Les Mis was what made me enjoy it so much more–I wasn’t hung up on all the inaccuracies and deviations; I was just interested how the characters of Éponine, Cosette, and Marius translated to Chatine, Alouette, and Marcellus, and excited to find out what happened next.
I definitely feel like the authors are Éponine fans because Chatine was the centre of the book. I definitely liked Chatine, and her portrayal is so much closer to the Brick’s than the musical’s was. Chatine is hardened and desperate for an escape from the planet of Laterre, and she’s so badass. Chatine knows what she wants and how she’s going to get it, except when it comes to Marcellus – which is pretty much how she is in the original book. I admit her behaviour annoyed me sometimes with her “not like other girls” attitude and how much she hated Alouette for most of the book. I was shocked when Chatine called Alouette a “bimbo,” because, uh, COME ON? I don’t think even book!Éponine was that hateful towards Cosette. And I wish that Chatine’s internalized misogyny was addressed more.
With Marcellus, I was really interested in how his storyline was based on his relationship with his grandfather, which is fairly accurate to the book. Marius finds out secrets about his father and splits with Gillenormand because of political differences, which is more or less what happens with Marcellus and General Bonnefaçon. I’m not sure how I feel about Marcellus’s characterization–I think if I wasn’t comparing him to Marius, I would have enjoyed Marcellus’s character a lot more. Marcellus was so well-developed and I really liked him.
Alouette was actually my favourite, which makes sense, because I adore Cosette. Alouette was inquisitive and intelligent and confident in herself, which is basically everything I love in a good Cosette characterization. I also loved her father a lot and how the whole story of Les Misérables was incorporated into this book, because so many retellings focused on 1832-era characters tend to leave out Fantine, Valjean, and Javert. Alouette and Hugo’s relationship was precious and endearing, but Alouette is definitely struggling for more independence and answers. And the authors kept Cosette’s nickname as “Little Lark,” which made me so happy. It really shows attention to detail to the original book. Both Alouette and Chatine’s characters didn’t change much from the original Brick, which I really loved – Hugo’s women are, generally, so fully fleshed-out, autonomous characters, that there doesn’t need to be a lot of modernizing.
One of the new additions to the story of Les Mis was the Vangarde. I suppose in some ways it could be compared to Les Amis de l’ABC, but I didn’t see it; the Vangarde is an entirely new identity. It was fascinating to have something new to figure out, especially since a lot of the plot twists were lost on me because I know the original book so well. However, I really wanted to see Les Amis de l’ABC. I hope they’ll make an appearance in the next book, because they’re some of my favourite characters–I would absolutely love for them to be women, and this book has such potential to put Les Amis in as an all-girl revolutionary team. I was really glad for some of the side characters–Azelle, Chatine’s sister, stands in for Azelma, who is cut from a lot of adaptations. Roche was … so precious. I loved him so much, and I’m happy that Chatine will get to know him in the sequel.
As far as the worldbuilding went, it was fairly typical for YA sci-fi–lots of capitalized words to indicate significance, for instance. Much of the book mixed in a lot of gratuitous French with the English–or English words that sounded like French. Honestly, I thought a lot of it was unnecessary: substituting “métré” for “meter,” or “stupide” for “stupid.” It threw me off a bit and sometimes came off as quite awkward, especially when there were words that could have been French-ified–like Citizen Rosseau could have been Citoyen Rosseau and gotten the point across just the same. I believe there are some translations that leave instances of “citoyen” untranslated, especially when Enjolras goes off about how his mother is the Republic, etc. I appreciated all the references to both the book and the musical–an inn called the Jondrette, and little nudges like calling Mme. Renard the “master of the house.” I’m not usually fond of musical references, but these ones were generally unobtrusive.
All in all, I really enjoyed Sky Without Stars and can say it’s my favourite retelling of Les Misérables. Which is high praise, coming from me. Chatine, Alouette, and Marcellus were a delight to read about, and I’m really interested in picking up the next book.
Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.