TIN STAR by Cecil Castellucci
jacket flap blurb
I knew where I was. I was on a remote space station, sixteen light years from Earth. I knew where I was supposed to be —on the colony ship, heading for a new planet. And I knew what Brother Blue was thinking as his boot came toward me—that my body was no longer his problem.
Severely beaten and left for dead, Tula Bane finds herself abandoned on an alien space station far from Earth. Here, she must adapt to the extraterrestrial way of life—by outsmarting and trading with the natives. Luckily, she befriends Heckleck, an alien who helps her survive in the deep underbelly of the station As Tula gets back on her feet, she thirsts for revenge, and when the perfect opportunity presents itself—in the form of three humans crash landing on the station—the itch to escape is irresistible. But as the maps of the galaxy change, Tula discovers that things are much more interconnected than she thought. Vengeance will not be easy.
Everything works together so well in this book. All the pieces fit perfectly, like the walls of an Inca palace. The tone is part wistful, part nostalgic, and part hopeful. It’s about a human girl named Tula. She was born on isolationist Earth in a universe that is full of different species. Most are Minor Species. But those with a certain number of successful colonies are Major Species.
The problem is, there aren’t very many hospitable planets and colonizing them is an arduous process. Many colonies fail, and teleporting from one spot in the universe to another is not always successful, meaning some ships never even make it to their destination.
Unlike most sci-fi books, in Tin Star humans are not a major power. Quite the opposite. They are new to the galactic playing field, and barely qualify as a Minor Species.
Tula’s mother became involved with a cult called the Children of Earth. It was led by a man named Brother Blue—those high up within the cult organization are “Brothers” and “Sisters.” The Children of Earth send out colonies. Tula is taken with her mother and her sister to be one such colony on the colony ship called Prairie Rose. If successful, it would be the fifth human colony among the stars.
Or so they think. In actuality, there are no colonies. There are simply skeleton crews on the supposedly-inhabited planet who keep the ruse going. A force called the Imperium, made of the five Major Species and a variety of Minor Species supporters, is gaining power. Brother Blue wants Earth to be in a position to ally with the Imperium once they gain full control. But to be in that position, they have to have colonies.
And that’s where his elaborate ruse comes in. The Prairie Rose is forced to make a detour to a space station called Yertina Feray, supposedly for repairs after a malfunction. In reality, Brother Blue plans to a) sell the grain the colonists are taking to start their colony and b) provide an area where he can split off from the colony, claiming there are issues he must deal with back on Earth and they will no doubt be successful without him.
Yertina Feray is pretty awesome setting. It is a space station that orbits the planet Quint. Quint, and thus Yertina Feray, were once a major figure on the galactic scene. But eventually Quint was mined to the bone, and with the mining boom over, the planet was barely inhabitable and essentially useless. Yertina Feray clings to life only as a way station, a place where ships from the center areas can stop before teleporting on to elsewhere in the galaxy (or vice-versa). Yertina Feray is almost completely ignored by the major galactic powers.
When Tula notices the grain is not on the Prairie Rose when it is time to leave, she points it out. At first to other colonists. And then, because she speaks halting, but passable Universal Galactic, to the aliens in charge of putting everything on the ship. But they say there weren’t instructed to put the grain on. Eventually, Brother Blue hears what’s going on. He takes her to a secluded location and beats her until he’s convinced she’s dead. Then he tells her family she’s going with him, not onwards with the colonists.
And this is how Tula Bane ends up stranded on Yertina Feray. Because humans are so rare, and the ones that exist are nomads, going from one place to another with no colony or purpose and forbidden from returning to Earth (because of Earth Gov’s isolationist stance, all who leave are forbidden from returning), aliens have a bad opinion of them. For many of them, Tula is the only human they’ve ever encountered.
The doctors on the station patch Tula back up and send her to Constable Tournour. Constable Tournour says they are not responsible for her. He advises her to stay out of trouble and disappear. But then, in a moment of mercy, he allows her to steal some objects from his office. She uses the money to go the Ministry of Colonies and Travel office, where she hears that the Prairie Rose never made it to its destination. It was destroyed during a faulty teleportation.
By chance, she ends up befriending and working for/with an alien called Heckleck. She comes to understand the body language of the aliens (at least the species that live on Yartina Feray and pass through) and their ways. She learns to live like Heckleck and so many others in the underguts, by bargaining one thing for another. Learning who can be bought, who needs what, what prices to ask and what prices to refuse.
But through it all, she wants revenge on Brother Blue. She wants to go home, even if she doesn’t know where that would be, seeing as she can’t go back to Earth. She tries to contact other human colonies, but receives no answer and doesn’t know that the colonies don’t truly exist. And then, as Heckleck says, the map of the galaxy changes.
The Imperium gains control. Earth allies with them. And Imperium ship comes to Yartina Feray and offers work and free passage to residents. Many go. All of them are Minor Species which are not allied with the Imperium. Why? Well, the Imperium is racist. They believe some species are good and deserve good work, and those that don’t meet up with their standards end up with the bad work.
When three humans crash land on Yartina Feray, that’s when things really get changed up for Tula. On one hand, they are human and she wants to go to them and get to know them. But on the other hand, she’s been the only human for three years now, and she doesn’t feel entirely comfortable with her own kind. Not to mention, her experiences with humans (*cough* Brother Blue *cough*) haven’t exactly been positive. And in addition, the other aliens don’t like the new humans, and Tula isn’t sure about them either.
This is getting long so I’ll try to wrap it up before I just tell you the entire story. Tula, Heckleck, Tournour, and Thado feel very real. I understood the psychology and emotions behind their actions, especially Tula’s internal conflicts. I also liked the characterization of the three humans, Els, Reza, and Caleb, and how it was revealed bit by bit, slowly, and realistically. And I was quite thrilled when, at the end, my Tula/Tournour ship turned into canon.
So what didn’t I like? Well, I thought the beginning could have been better. At times, in the beginning, Tula seemed disgruntled with the Children of Earth and Brother Blue. It seemed she was only there to be with her family. But at other times, she talks about how handsome Brother Blue is, and how much she trusts him and thinks he’s worthy of trust. She daydreams about one day getting called “Sister + color.” She comes up with colors in her head. Gray. Lilac. Teal.
I think it could have been better clarified how she felt about the Children of Earth when she was with them. I got the feeling she did believe in the Children of Earth, and in Brother Blue, but then she saw the grain, suspicions she’d been pushing back started to come to the surface. And then they realized fully when Brother Blue beat her, and she saw how he’d manipulated them.
But other than that, I loved the book. I loved how nothing was wasted. Nothing was brought up without a reason (hochts, for instance, and the miner robots). And I liked how it ended. It was sort of open-ended, in a way. Brother Blue is still out, making an increasing name for himself, and Tula misses her chance to kill him. But the end still feels like a success, because of other reasons. It ends on a hopeful, determined note, with a plan in Tula and Tournour’s minds to bring Brother Blue and the Imperium down.
It feels like there could be a sequel, but not like there has to be a sequel. In fact, I don’t think there should be a sequel. It might ruin it.
rating out of five stars