Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was surprisingly good. I wouldn't really call it a Good Omens replacement or a cookie-cutter Chambers, but here's something about it that was uncommonly good: it takes three wildly different genre scenarios and successfully blends them together in a way that REALLY shouldn't work but DOES.
Three characters, three wildly different situations. Katrina Nguyen is a transgender violin prodigy that takes a ton of hits in the tale, really describing a ton of prejudice and hate while also being picked out of a crowd for her talent, and then is groomed for the same.
Shizuka Satomi is the brilliant violin teacher who helps her, but she is cursed by a demon. She is forced to allow a demon to take the souls of her students.
And then there is Lan Tran, a donut shop owner who also happens to be a refugee from a vast alien galactic war with her ship and crew hiding out on Earth. She happens to fall in love with Shizuka.
I personally loved all the plot points surrounding the violins, from playing to fixing them up to everything.
But I also thought Katrina's plot arc was kinda cringe. I know it's supposed to make us feel loads of pity but it just went on and on, a total victim mindset which was even more cringe when we see how Shizuka just capitalized on it, luring her in with all the nice stuff and support while Katrina's past just predicted her future.
Fortunately, the writing was interesting enough that it didn't ruin the novel for me. The rest dovetailed nicely together, especially the almost out-of-nowhere inclusion of a true outsider (alien) being absurdly grateful for and learning to recapture the joy of living (with donuts) without fear.
All three characters were pretty great counterpoints to each other.
This is a book that happens to be greater than the sum of its parts. I had some smaller issues here and there and there wasn't nearly as much humor in this as I could have expected from the comps in the blurb, but on its own, the whole novel did add up to a lot more than its smaller pieces.
I was more than satisfied.
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