A lost civilization, the tomb of a legendary king, missing teenagers, aliens and planetary exploration all combine to make Digging in the Stars a unique and welcome additional to YA science fiction.
Digging in the Stars is the debut novel from author Katherine Blakeney and whilst it’s not my typical read I thoroughly enjoyed it! It’s a fast read and a very creative fusion of science fiction and archaeology that gives younger readers a great introduction to the sci-fi genre!
To summarise the book without spoilers: Carter is part of an Archaeology of Outer Space class and after her friend goes missing under mysterious and suspicious circumstances, she re-routes her field trip (unbeknownst to them or their professor) to the planet Thror in an attempt to find him. What ensues is an unintended journey and exploration of the Planet Thror, which is much more of a tourist attraction and resort than a planet of culture. But Thror has secrets that the locals don’t want unearthed, and as their behaviour becomes more and more guarded and mistrustful, Carter thinks there is something much more sinister to this planet and its inhabitants, and her explorations could spell trouble for her and her classmates.
“Excellent question. Who asked any of you to follow me?”
There’s a big focus and emphasis on science and archaeology in Digging in the Stars that was both thoughtful and engaging. The connection between science and archaeology is intriguing and different – it’s definitely unlike anything I’ve ever read. This is definitely a novel that is helping to fill a void in the YA market! You could tell that this came from Blakeney’s passion, knowledge and experience.
Digging in the Stars is full of references that both science and history aficionados will get and there are plenty of moments where the geeks in the readership will internally squeal with delight, but it is never alienating to those who are brand new to the genre.
There was a nice flow to the story that felt very natural, and the balance between polarising moods was great. There were enough funny moments to balance the serious ones, and the more wordy descriptions of the terrain, or cultural explanations of planet Thror were punctuated with enough scenes of action that the reader never got bored. The technology and the time period were both explained well and it wasn’t so far-fetched that it was out of any realm of possibility with regards to time frames and their relatability with our current one.
“Bryanne was still yelling, spewing phrases that her American friends were – perhaps mercifully – unable to grasp.”
In fact, the writing throughout the novel is beautiful and very natural. Everything from character description to world building was handled with great care that came across effortless.
Speaking of the world-building, creating a brand new planet and aliens is a mammoth task for any writer – everything needs to be considered and explained, without overwhelming the reader. Blakeney manages this perfectly – the colours and textures of the terrain and the aliens themselves were particularly vivid.
The place where I was torn with Digging in the Stars was with the characters. There are great characters, but there are also those who don’t do much, or are quite irrelevant who only drag the good ones down. An example of a great character is Professor P. She’s very funny, quick witted and sharp tongued and a straight talker; she provides some excellent one-liners for the dialogue. She’s also genuine, and at times is quite caring and comes across as both matronly and the matriarch.
All of the girls in the ‘supporting cast’ bring something of their own to the table, including humour and intrigue, but sometimes it got a little overbearing. This was especially the case with Lizzie, she was sarcastic all of the time and it came across as a bit predictable in the end.
“I appreciate your honesty and will be blunt with you in return.”
Carter, our main character and heroine, gave me the most cause for confliction. One the one hand she is incredibly brave, determined and smart. But, on the other hand, her drive is easily seen as selfishness and it’s often at the expense and safety of the other characters. It was frustrating to see her act so selfishly and to watch how her reckless behaviour and self-obsessed attitude affected those around her.
The only other problem I had with the characters was that there didn’t seem to be much in the way of development or growth. No one really changed or showed personal growth and this is especially true for the ‘supporting cast’. But as I think this book is the first in a series and is aimed at younger readers it’s easily forgiven and it’s not a major detractor from the book. With that being said, I did enjoy the character interactions – there were no instant-friendships or instant-enemies or really any instant relationships of any kind, which is believable and bucks the trend in YA.
“Assuming that block of obsidian is meant to be a desk and not a sacrificial altar.”
There was a lot going on in this book, and unfortunately sometimes it was a little bit difficult to follow. Parts of the plot and some details seemed to be a little bit erratic and I had to re-read parts to get a better grasp of what was going on, this was especially true towards the end. However, this could be down to me personally, as I’m not a connoisseur of this genre. Perhaps those more seasoned sci-fi readers wouldn’t have a problem. However, the ending did feel a little bit rushed. The sheer amount of action at the end of the book was a bit overwhelming.
There really aren’t many things I disliked about this book, but one thing I definitely have to say I did not like was the inclusion of references to companies and social media that we have today. This is completely down to personal taste so please don’t let it mar your impression of this great book, I just disliked it that much I have to mention it here. Digging in the Stars is set 200+ years in the future, and the mention of companies like Starbucks and M&M’s seemed unrealistic and broke the fantasy a little bit. The same is true for mentions of trending Twitter hashtags and Facebook feeds containing “badly photographed breakfast platters”. It just completely broke the fantasy for me to be reminded of things we have now that could so easily be irrelevant in 5 years, never mind 200+ (Myspace I’m looking at you).
It was refreshing to not be hit over the head with teenage romance in a YA novel. Whilst there’s no explicit romance mentioned, there is certainly a hint of feelings and it made a nice change. I did however have trouble suspending my belief that there could be any sort of romantic feeling or sexual attraction between the humans and aliens – it just seemed too unlikely for me (but again, I’m not a sci-fi buff).
I loved reading this book, but I do think that it was perhaps a little too verbose – especially as I think this might be aimed at younger readers. But, with that being said, it’s still an incredibly entertaining book, and definitely brings something new to the YA table. It’s been a great debut for the author and I look forward to the sequels! Fans of Sci-fi and fantasy will enjoy Digging in the Stars and yet it also makes a great introduction to the genre for those who have yet to dip their toe in the water.
“All prideful ones burn.”
[PLEASE NOTE]: All quotations were taken from an Advanced Reader Copy made of uncorrected proof. Quotations may be different in the final published version. I am a rep for Blaze Publishers and was given a digital ARC to review. This did not affect my review in a positive or negative way – all the opinions are honest and my own.
To celebrate the release of Digging in the Stars, Blaze publishers are hosting an Instagram contest!
RULES: Digging in the Stars opens readers up to a universe of discovery, and we want to see the book in your world with our Instagram contest! Post a picture of your paperback copy out in the world between March 28th 2017 and April 8th 2017 using the tag #digginginmyworld, #digginginthestars and tagging Blaze. One random poster will win a $25 gift card to Amazon … Enter as many times as you like!