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Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan

BOTTOM LINE: A welcome surprise story and a compelling one about choices and consequences

Genre: Science Fiction
Publication Date: 23 May 2017
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“Trapped in the vast void of space, Carys and Max have only ninety minutes of oxygen left to live. None of this was supposed to happen. After a freak accident, Carys and Max are left adrift in space with nothing to hold onto but each other. As they fall, they can’t help but look back at the world they left behind. A world whose rules they couldn’t submit to, a place where they never really belonged; a home they’re determined to get back to because they’ve come too far to lose each other now. While their air ticks dangerously low, one is offered the chance of salvation—but who will take it?”

My Thoughts: Hold Back the Stars has a simple premise. Moreover, upon first glance the story seems superficial. The language is undemanding, and the amount of world-building and character development appears to be minimal. In reality though, it is a nuanced and layered piece of fiction that explores the idea of choices and the consequences of them with in-depth characters and a compelling futuristic world.

The fact that the story is so deep comes as a welcome surprise. After all, Ms. Khan’s syntax is straightforward, and the first third of the novel is linear and uncomplicated. The funny thing about basic writing though is how effective it is at painting a picture and developing characters. Ultimately, Ms. Khan has to create a love story between two characters, generate enough sympathy for readers to care about their plight, explain how the two end up stranded in space fighting for their lives, and build a futuristic utopian society that is a natural progression of today’s global environment. She does this because of her basic syntax and uncomplicated storytelling. She succeeds in everything she sets out to create without being obvious about any of it, and the story is richer as a result because it allows Ms. Khan to focus on the layers that make this story so interesting.

Hold Back the Stars is another novel in which it is best not to know much about the story before starting it. Only when the novel is a complete surprise can readers appreciate what Ms. Khan does with the narrative and her reasons for doing so. Knowing what happens in advance ruins the surprise and lessens the impact of her message. In addition, any advance knowledge trivializes the story. What should be a layered story about choice becomes an overly simplistic story about doomed lovers. I know which type of story I prefer to read.

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