If you tell me, “It’s X set in a space” that’s a sure way to get my attention. A loosely based Persuasion set in space, The Stars We Steal is like The Bachelor set in space. Without further ado, today’s book review is The Stars We Steal by Alexa Donne. There’s romance brewing under the stars, literally.
Engagement season is in the air. Eighteen-year-old Princess Leonie “Leo” Kolburg, heir to a faded European spaceship, only has one thing on her mind: which lucky bachelor can save her family from financial ruin?
But when Leo’s childhood friend and first love Elliot returns as the captain of a successful whiskey ship, everything changes. Elliot was the one that got away, the boy Leo’s family deemed to be unsuitable for marriage. Now, he’s the biggest catch of the season and he seems determined to make Leo’s life miserable. But old habits die hard, and as Leo navigates the glittering balls of the Valg Season, she finds herself failing for her first love in a game of love, lies, and past regrets.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
The Stars We Steal is a book full of expectations, sacrifices, and privilege. I’ve never read Persuasion, but I’m a huge fan of re-tellings and SF. While I had no expectations and high hopes, The Stars We Steal is going to be a difficult book review to write. The Stars We Steal is, at its finest, a story about regret, fortune reversal, and a quest for independence. It’s natural to always dwell on what ifs and when Leonie’s first love comes crashing into her life again, her whole life teeters on the edge again.
Forced to contemplate marrying for fortune in order to save her family, Leonie has entered into the Vlag, a season of balls and match-making with the intention of producing engagements. Elliot is a wrench thrown into the machine as he seems not only bent on bringing trouble to Leonie’s life, but Leonie is forced to confront not only her past mistakes, but Elliot’s motives. I was really happy with this element of the story line. The re-emergence of old flames and Leonie’s quest for independence. There has to be a way for her to assure her family’s future without sacrificing her own future.
Do we only see people for what they can do for us? This idea is explored through a variety of characters as they are all facing struggles of their own. Is there a way to pursue people whose interests line up with our own? Or is it just a carefully concealed game of manipulation and exploitation?
On this level, I think The Stars We Steal delivers on that romantic tension and those moments where you witness their own mistakes. When we have trouble accepting what is in front of us, stepping over our wounded pride, and putting the past to rest. Where I had trouble with The Stars We Steal were these other story elements. As a science fiction book, I still have lingering questions about the world building, but Donne also adds elements of privilege which I felt weren’t fully explored. I loved the prospect of simmering tension between the classes, especially considering both the ultra-luxurious Vlag and the prospect of political instability.
These elements of the story were totally unexpected and it would have pushed the book over the edge for me, had they been fully resolved. At the end of The Stars We Steal I felt like they weren’t really answered? Or if they were, I felt like they were wrapped up quickly by the end. And the whole question of privilege and Leonie’s character weren’t explored in a satisfying way, in my opinion, especially considering her family situation (how they were basically running on fumes). There seemed to still be a disconnect between how Leonie was raised with money, and her inability to fully sympathize with the working class (and her current similarity to them).
Side Note on Representation
I went into The Stars We Steal because of it’s pitch of Persuasion in Space, but also because I heard there was an ace side character. Because of that, I was kind of on the mission to find the SC throughout, but I was a bit disappointed. Without spoiling the plot or the characters, I wanted to talk a bit about it. The character explains their asexuality, but, from my interpretation, in their description they conflate asexuality and aromanticism. They could very well be both aro and ace, which is kind of my assumption. I just wanted to put this out there!
Can you see why this was a difficult book review to write? All the elements that you can see from the summary, The Bachelor in space vibes, were entertaining. But the problem lay in the spaces between. The elements that were introduced, but not fully resolved. I also want to mention a few more things. The Stars We Steal had some fascinating queer side characters, like Evgenia who was just, overall, a very fun character. That being said, if you’re looking for a book that exactly fits The Bachelor in space, and you know that the romance is the primary focus with the SF world building second, it’s still worth checking out!