It’s been quite a while since I did an honest-to-goodness book review, but it’s great to be back! And what better way to get back into the habit than by talking about a series that over the past year has become one of my very favorites. And by a fellow indie author, no less!
On Tuesday, March 23, watch for the release of The Ashes of Hope and Hunger, book two in The Weight of Stars and Suns saga. This galaxy-spanning series by Dawn C. Jonckowski brings together a little of something I love with a little of something I’ve grown to respect–science fiction and romance–and does so in a beautifully artistic, fully-immersive, and wholly captivating way that I just can’t get enough of. Picture a high-concept sci-fi adventure in the vein of Star Trek (more on those exact parallels in a minute!) with a star-crossed (sometimes literally) love story worthy of The Princess Bride. I’ve always been a sucker for spacemen (and women) and starships in a book, but over the past few years I’ve read some extremely powerful and well-written romance novels that have made me reconsider my earlier reticence toward the genre. While I’m not specifically going to call The Ashes of Hope and Hunger or its originator “romance” novels, the relationships between the characters and the essential love story of the protagonists (and others involved as well) is central to the plot and literally spans worlds. So before the release, I’d love to share some of my thoughts with you and tell you about why you should start this awesome series–or just pick up the next book!
Firstly, a brief recap: in The Weight of Stars and Suns, we were introduced to the planet Tav, where an alien civilization thrives under dozens of suns. Over a hundred years before, a colony ship from Earth crashed on the planet and, faced with the probability of no rescue, the survivors were forced to integrate into Tavarian society. This eventually became a classist arrangement, where humans were subjugated as slaves to their new home’s original residents and many plotted resistance against their masters through the generations. The story begins with the chance meeting of Dameia, crown princess of Tav, and the rebel human Hyam, and the development of a forbidden romance between them that threatened both of their lives–compounded by the problem of Tav’s suns slowly beginning to die out. Faced with revolution within and extinction without, both sides are thrown into chaos by the arrival of the forces of the Global Alliance: a human-run galaxy-spanning empire who’s finally managed to send rescue to Tav, and is none too happy about the situation they find. In a painful choice, Dameia elects to take those of her people who want to go, as well as the surviving humans, and escape to Earth with Hyam, understanding that she will never see her people or her world again.
The Ashes of Hope and Hunger picks up not long after this, with Hyam, Dameia, and the other human and Tavarian survivors attempting to adjust to a world that’s strange and new to all of them alike. While some, such as the former healer Xanth, manage to find positions to fill their lives and give themselves purpose and meaning, others like our two protagonists struggle to cope with being the center of attention on Earth, somewhere they’ve never felt at home. Meanwhile, the intrepid Captain Kate Woolsey, hero of the Global Alliance, finds the goodwill she earned in the Tav mission down the drain as she’s given a series of orders she doesn’t agree with–including a new colony mission that could be a death trap for the Tav survivors. While Hyam, Dameia, Xanth, and others bravely volunteer for the mission, Woolsey knows it’s wrong–and this time, she’s ready to act as she openly defies the Global Alliance and she, along with the others, begins a revolution of their own.
Light-years away on the Global Alliance world Vepo, alien Arba has become the latest wife of Katuu, the last fertile male on the planet following a plague disaster caused by the Alliance’s negligence. Arba is deeply unhappy, but knows it is her duty to carry Katuu’s child and assure the future of her race–but the arrival of Woolsey, Dameia, Hyam, and the others throws everyone’s plans out the window. Not to mention the fact that her secret interstellar pen-pal, for whom she harbors a secret longing, is actually Xanth. Forbidden romance flares anew, made even more dangerous by Veporian palace intrigues and the politics of harboring fugitives from the Alliance. All the while, back on Earth a new faction called the Defiance is moving against the Global Alliance and sending all its resources to aid the Vepo mission. But will it all be for nothing, since distance breeds indifference and fear is stronger than hope?
I really don’t want to give too much more away about either story (because you really should read them both!), but I’d be remiss to call this a review without talking at least a little about the content of the latest book. To me, The Weight of Stars and Suns was a welcome addition to the sci-fi pantheon of literature, with its easily identifiable and sympathetic characters and truly universal stakes of love, home, belonging, and justice. Nowhere is this more on display than in the romance between purple-skinned Tavarian Dameia and the roguish renegade human Hyam. Despite the differences in their stations, I 100 percent buy into their romance from the very beginning because neither of them are content to accept the roles assigned to them, and each believes they were meant for more in their lives. What they find in each other is an acknowledgement of their secret desires and self-worth, which to me should be the basis for every romance. Major props to Jonckowski for handling this relationship in an organic, engrossing way that never felt over the top or sappy to me. It was fun, sweet, and overall fulfilling to see these two lovers find each other and continue to pursue their destinies–always together–in The Ashes of Hope and Hunger. Not to mention the fact that we now have the new Xanth/Arba romance to occupy us as well! Just like the Hyam/Dameia pairing, these two aliens finding each other across the vastness of the universe provides a compelling emotional hook to lead readers through the story on the edge of their seat. A good helping of politics and overcoming emotional trauma definitely helps as well. This couple is, I have to say, pretty adorable and I think other readers will think so as well. Whereas the Hyam/Dameia relationship is built on mutual strength of personalities, the Xanth/Arba romance is forged in the opposite way–two people in need of definition finding themselves in each other. It’s an intriguing dynamic to be sure!
In addition, I admire Jonckowski’s fully-imagined universe of places, things, and characters that set the scene for this series, with some familiar but still great concepts re-skinned in new and relevant ways. The Global Alliance–think the United Federation of Planets with less democracy and more bureaucracy–comes off as a well-intentioned but bloated organization that has expanded so far that it’s lost sight of the reason it exists: ostensibly, to take care of those under its purview. Indeed, it’s heartbreaking to see a situation like Vepo–again, a completely and fascinatingly original alien civilization and culture portrayed in vivid detail by Jonckowski here–get so out of hand and not earn any kind of interest from the caretakers responsible (however indirectly) for the situation. Promoted from her side character status in book one, Captain Woolsey really steals the show in book two: she’s a hard-nosed, no-nonsense leader who’s tough and yet sympathetic in all the right ways, and while you may doubt her people skills, you’ll never doubt her strength and integrity–I was pleasingly reminded of one of my favorite Star Trek captains, the intensely underrated Kathryn Janeway of Voyager. And if there’s a Janeway, there’s also a Gabriel Lorca in the form of new anti-hero captain Lucy Armstrong-LeValle of the Defiance: I’m always glad to see more strong female characters in a series, and Lucy has the conviction and tragic backstory that promise to make her an important player going forward–though I wish I had seen just a bit more of her in this particular book. But there’s always book three to look forward to!
In summary, I can’t recommend this series enough to lovers of sci-fi, romance, and high adventure, and note how The Ashes of Hope and Hunger is the perfect follow-up to The Weight of Stars and Suns. It expands on the incredibly deep universe established in the first book by adding new players and tensions while expanding the roles of old favorites in new and unforeseen ways–not to mention the fact that it all ends with a cliffhanger that’s sure to stun you. Again, no spoilers! Plus, you’ve got to love that beautiful cover design. It truly does say cosmic adventure in all the right ways.
Make sure you pre-order your copy of The Ashes of Hope and Hunger today, or find it on Amazon and KDP on March 23 when it’s available for purchase the old-fashioned way! Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that there’s currently a very special giveaway going on for a prize package of The Weight of Stars and Suns series swag, including a novelty t-shirt, a hardback book version, and much more. Support our indie authors and sign up now!
Until then, may you find peace and love wherever in the universe you might be.