I was initially on the fence about the book as a whole, but then I was approached and I thought – well this is a perfect way to settle it! I’m glad I did, because Starswept was just the right amount of entertaining, thought provoking, and immersive.
In 2157, the Adryil—an advanced race of telepathic humanoids—contacted Earth. A century later, 15-year-old violist Iris Lei considers herself lucky to attend Papilio, a prestigious performing arts school powered by their technology. Born penniless, Iris’s one shot at a better life is to attract an Adryil patron. But only the best get hired, and competition is fierce.
A sudden encounter with an Adryil boy upends her world. Iris longs to learn about him and his faraway realm, but after the authorities arrest him for trespassing, the only evidence she has of his existence is the mysterious alien device he slipped to her.
When she starts hearing his voice in her head, she wonders if her world of backstabbing artists and pressure for perfection is driving her insane. Then, she discovers that her visions of him are real—by way of telepathy—and soon finds herself lost in the kind of impossible love she depicts in her music.
But even as their bond deepens, Iris realizes that he’s hiding something from her—and it’s dangerous. Her quest for answers leads her past her sheltered world to a strange planet lightyears away, where she uncovers secrets about Earth’s alien allies that shatter everything she knows.
I think where Starswept excels is in its worldbuilding. And I was really impressed with the world building, not only is the concept of art patronage unique, but it’s also the system of oppression that combines to form this almost dystopic world atmosphere. In Iris’ world student can enroll in Papilio, an elite arts school. There they each focus on one aspect and they increase the ranks. What it creates is an atmosphere which encourages cut throat competition and overwhelming self-doubt.
Iris specializes in viola and while she isn’t the top of the pack, her playing style is certainly unique. But as the book progresses, Iris must learn more about the world she lives in. Not only about the school she’s attending, but the world as a whole. Iris starts off a little naive, to me, at the beginning. In many ways, she resembles a lot of us.
But over time, Iris learns about the strong price one has to pay when you can’t rise to the top, not only that, but the dangerous mind reading talents of their alien patrons.
And there’s so much more than that. Fan introduces a really unique idea, in a new setting, with some added twists. What kept me hooked was the world building. I just had more and more questions about what would unfold and what more we would learn. Not only that, but the fact that the aliens have mind reading capabilities was really fascinating to me. If you’re interested in this type of world building, check out Starswept on Goodreads.