Sunday, June 26, 2022

Light from Uncommon Stars, by Ryka Aoki

Tor Books, ISBN 9781250789075, September 2021

Lan Tran is the captain of a spaceship, and has, with her family, fled a galactic war to the backwater planet called Earth. They have purchased the Starrgate Donut shop from the retiring Thamavuongs, promising they would continue to make donuts, and not tear down the giant white donut. In fact, Lan Tran has plans for that giant donut.

Shizuka Satomi is a violin player, a renowned violin teacher, and a woman who has a pact with a demon. Due to an error in judgment when she was young, she owes Hell seven souls in return for not being consigned to Hell herself. She has delivered six, and has just one more year to deliver the seventh. In the course of her search, she by chance goes to the Starrgate Donut Shop, and met Lan Tran.

Katrina is a young trans woman, who has fled San Francisco for LA, to escape the father who objects, quite violently, to her violin playing and her trans identity. Unfortunately, the friend she thought would give her a safe landing in LA proves to be less of a friend than she thought. She winds up homeless again--but she has met Shizuka Satomi in a nearby park, and Miss Satomi had, after hearing her play her violin, urged her to call.

These three women quickly find themselves entangled in unexpected ways. Yes, Katrina wants shelter and a teacher. Yes, Shizuka wants a student whose soul she can steal in exchange for the promise of musical immortality. And Lan wants--what? She doesn't know, really, except that she and Shizuka are unexpectedly and compellingly drawn to each other.

Meanwhile, they all have problems, not all of which they've shared with each other. The more time Shizuka spends with Katrina, the more reluctant she is to lure her into the deal with the demon--and yet, if she doesn't, it will be her own soul going to Hell. 

Lan Tran is worried about both the Endplague, which is the cause of the wars destroying the galactic empire she and her family, and about that family--daughter Shirley, son Markus, twin son and daughter Edwin and Windee, and Aunt Floresta. She's not sure they're all adjusting well. They're using replicators to make the donuts, exactly like the Thamavuong donuts, but Edwin and Aunt Floresta spend all their time in the kitchen, experimenting with real baking--and Edwin is too shy to be good at customer service when he does take a shift in the shop. Markus is spending all his time, as assigned, on the technical work necessary for turning the giant donut into a stargate. Windee divides her time between the shop and the tech work, but neither she, nor Markus, or Shirley really understand why it's important to rush the construction of the stargate. Markus is getting increasingly intolerant of the locals. Shirley, the oldest and most reliable of Lan's children, reaches a point where she refuses what Lan sees as an absolutely critical order.

Katrina is convinced that she's unlovable, ugly, and will never be accepted for who she is, that she has no value beyond her ability to please--and that it's far safer to do that via webcams than in person. She spends much of her time, once under Shizuka's tutelage, that the next mistake may be the one that gets her kicked out.

These are interesting and likable characters, with other good characters in lesser roles. I enjoyed their stories, getting to know them, and seeing them confront their problems. Oh, and the demon is an active character, and no more likable than a demon should be. I really thoroughly enjoyed this.


I received this novel as part of the 2022 Hugo Finalists Packet, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

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