Hold Back the Stars is another ARC that I received at the Ottawa Book Blogger Meetup. It’s Katie Khan’s first novel and the back cover compares it to the film Gravity, so I was hoping for a thrilling sci-fi story.
Max and Carys are stranded in space with only ninety minutes of oxygen left. As they tumble through the void, they revisit memories of their relationship.
They met on a utopian Earth governed by the ideals of individualism. Every three years, the population rotates into different communities, each person responsible for their own actions. They are immediately attracted to one another and quickly realize they want a long-term relationship, but the Couples Rule prevents pairs from moving on rotation together.
With parallels between their past and present, the narrative explores the power of first love.
Let’s get into it…
This wasn’t what I was expecting at all, to be honest. I thought there would be more focus on the characters’ trying to survive in space. The novels’ countdown and Max and Carys initial attempts to make their way back to their ship are certainly dramatic. However, the overall tone of the novel is more thoughtful than thrilling. But I think that’s what made it unique.
The sci-fi setting includes the usual technological elements – advanced communication systems, walls that act like computer screens, etc. But the real important part of the sci-fi setting is the government system that Katie Khan includes. Europia – a utopian Europe formed after war devastates the United States and the Middle East – is governed by individualism. Each person is supposed to act in their own name, rather than in the name of their country or religion.
It’s interesting that Khan has imagined a world in which people are responsible for themselves alone, yet that doesn’t devolve into chaos and self-interest. The only oppressive parts of this system are that people have to move every three years and aren’t allowed to live with a significant other until 35. It’s an intriguing backdrop for sure, but one that takes a backseat to the relationship between Max and Carys.
Hold Back the Stars is technically a romance. However, it wasn’t so much about the characters falling in love as it was about the characters staying together. It subverts my expectations for romance since there’s not really any question of will-they-won’t-they. Max and Carys are together when the book starts, so there’s not a lot of tension in the flashbacks. Still, they do face ups and downs and it was interesting to see how relationships work in Katie Khan’s imagining of the future.
While the back and forth nature of the narrative is itself somewhat unique, the ending of the novel delves into the experimental. I can’t say too much without spoiling, but I will say that the ending is up for interpretation. It’s one that I’m not sure I agree with, but one that I think would make for interesting discussion. In any case, I found it refreshing to read something a bit different.
Final verdict: Hold Back the Stars is a thoughtful look at the ups and downs of first love within a future society focused on individualism.