Ignite the Stars by Maura Milan
Everyone in the universe knows his name. Everyone in the universe fears him. But no one realizes that notorious outlaw Ia Cocha is a seventeen-year-old girl.
A criminal mastermind and unrivaled pilot, Ia has spent her life terrorizing the Olympus Commonwealth, the imperialist nation that destroyed her home. When the Commonwealth captures her and her true identity is exposed, they see Ia’s age and talent as an opportunity: by forcing her to serve them, they will prove that no one is beyond their control.
Soon, Ia is trapped at the Commonwealth’s military academy, desperately plotting her escape. But new acquaintances—including Brinn, a seemingly average student with a closely-held secret, and their charming Flight Master, Knives—cause Ia to question her own alliances. Can she find a way to escape the Commonwealth’s clutches before these bonds deepen?
In this exhilarating edge-of-your-seat sci-fi adventure—perfect for fans of The Lunar Chronicles—debut author Maura Milan introduces our world to a thrilling new heroine.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I am going to do my darnedest to explain why I didn’t like this book, but a lot of other people will. Perhaps you will love it! Ignite the Stars is a space-based, science-fiction novel that will appeal to a lot of readers. There were just some things that didn’t work for me. That doesn’t make it bad. It just made it … disappointing.
There are some spoilers, y’all, so be wary. Mostly character-related, but I wanted to warn you.
To start off, I like the concept of following a young rebellion leader through the cosmos while she rescues the galaxy from an oppressive tyrant. It had very a Star Wars feel to me, and I was born loving Star Wars. I wanted to watch her break free from the military academy promised in the blurb, where she is doubtless a prisoner and studied or tested for her skill. Badass young women being strong and good in space? Yes please!
This is where my initial disappointment comes in. Ignite the Stars does not follow a badass rebellion leader. It follows Ia Cocha, who is described as a badass rebellion leader, who talks about how she is one, and who is casually feared by the Commonwealth as one. However, Ia does nothing remotely living up to her title in this book. There are a few cliche minor heroics at the end, but otherwise, she lazily sits around and waits to be rescued while refusing to play nice with anybody (except that she more or less plays nice with everybody).
Ia is not the only character whose bark is bigger than her bite. Knives is the son of a great General who turned down a Really Important Badass Job because he is angry and grieving. Stop me if you’ve read this character before. He teaches classes at the academy even though he’s the same age as everyone else. He’s also Ia’s guard. And he falls in love with her. Then he tells himself, “You know what? Bad plan?” and saunters to her quarters and takes her on an impromptu date that isn’t a date. All Knives supposed to do is guard Ia and punish her, but all he does is mope and roll his eyes a lot and let Ia do whatever she wants and nobody seems to notice. So, there’s POV #2.
POV #3 is Brinn Tarvar. She had the most missed potential, in my opinion. Brinn is a Tawny, part of an alien race with navy blue hair, magical healing powers, and a stark intelligence that allows them to solve math problems that take humans a lifetime. The Tawnies are part of the refugee movement, and generaly hated in the Commonwealth. Therefore, Brinn hides her heritage. Written out, all this is great about Brinn. Brinn is interesting, different, and even comes the closest to having real feelings. There’s plot potential in her as an origin story, but it goes to waste. In fact, Ia (a human) has to teach her about her heritage even though Brinn’s chapters discuss her mother and how they were raised to know their Tawny roots.
As if these characters did not have enough wasted potential in themselves, reading through this felt like watching paper dolls on tracks. Ia, for example, is constantly described as an amazing pilot and fighter. When there is specialty testing in the Academy, she is sorted as an engineer instead of a pilot. As far as I can gather, the main reason for this is to force a relationship between her and Brinn to drive the plot. I’d buy it if there was a discussion with Ia about how she can’t be trusted with a ship because she’s a criminal. But the discussion never quite gets there.
Generally speaking, the relationships between all characters were too easy. People weren’t friendly to Ia, but even at their worst moments, nobody treated her like a proper murderer. In fact, the worst she gets is a scrap with another “Bug” (as these trainees call themselves… not huge on that either) and they end up in the infirmary. There was nothing real about the characterization, the behavior, or the relationships. I spent a lot of time rolling my eyes.
For me, these cookie-cutter characters made this book very difficult to read. The plot, albeit more shallow than it needed to be, was interesting. The pacing was fine (except in one awkward spot near the end, but I think I was skimming by that point). The Academy itself had a lot of potential, as well as Ia’s background. There are a lot of places this novel could have gone, but instead it feels uncommitted to me. These things won’t bother a lot of people, especially those who pop into a book for action and romance, or Brooding Heroes. Ignite the Stars has all three.
Taking all this into account, and recognizing that this is Maura Milan’s debut novel and that authors get stronger with each book they publish, I think three stars is really fair for this one. There are so many places where this could have been improved, but as it is, it is not an unlikable story.