The Stars We Steal
By Alexa Donne
Published February 4, 2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Engagement season is in the air. Eighteen-year-old Princess Leonie “Leo” Kolburg, heir to a faded European spaceship, only has one thing on her mind: which lucky bachelor can save her family from financial ruin?
But when Leo’s childhood friend and first love Elliot returns as the captain of a successful whiskey ship, everything changes. Elliot was the one that got away, the boy Leo’s family deemed to be unsuitable for marriage. Now, he’s the biggest catch of the season and he seems determined to make Leo’s life miserable. But old habits die hard, and as Leo navigates the glittering balls of the Valg Season, she finds herself falling for her first love in a game of love, lies, and past regrets.
I loved Alexa Donne’s first book Brightly Burning, which was a retelling of Jane Eyre set in space, and I was excited for her latest book, The Stars We Steal. This one is a loose retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion crossed with The Bachelor, set in the same world as the first book.
In the future, humanity has left Earth behind and now orbits the planet in a fleet of spaceships. Princess Leonie (Leo) Kolburg is from a former royal family, but they’ve fallen on hard times. Although they have their own ship, it’s in disrepair and they’re docked on a larger ship where her aunt is the captain. Although Leo tries to keep their expenses down, her father and sister have no concept of money. Leo is a sensible young woman who has invented a new system of water filtration, but she doesn’t have the funds to patent the invention or promote it to other ships. The lack of fortune leaves her with only one option, to marry a wealthy man. Under pressure from her father, she agrees to participate in the Valg Season, which is basically a combination of an old-fashioned debutante season and The Bachelor. While she and her sister are participating in the season, Leo arranges to rent out her family’s ship so they can make some extra money. But then the tenants show up with a guest, Elliot, who was briefly engaged to Leo three years before. Her family pushed her to break things off, and former servant Elliot has come back as a very successful young man.
I liked this book, but didn’t love it. Persuasion is one of my favorite books, so perhaps my expectations were too high. I really liked Leo. She’s a great character. She’s smart and resourceful and a lot like Anne Elliot in the original book. I didn’t enjoy Elliot as much. He’s basically a jerk for the first half of the book, and he flirts with Leo’s sister and cousin, which is not cool. He gets a bit better as the book goes on, but he didn’t grow on me.
There’s a subplot about the massive economic inequality in the spaceship system, but it isn’t very well developed. I thought this story had the potential to be very interesting, especially given the class divide between Leo, who’s from a royal family, and Elliot, who was once a servant for her family. And there’s a movement to make ships justify their existence by being useful to the community in some way (the larger ship that Leo and her family are docked on is basically a pleasure vehicle). But we never get a real sense of how the other half lives. The spaceship setting is cool, but I didn’t feel like it added that much to the story. It felt like the story could have been set anywhere.
If you’re looking for The Bachelor in space, this may be the book for you. But as a Persuasion retelling or a science-fiction novel, it’s less successful.
I received an ARC from the publisher through Amazon Vine.