Title: Sweep of Stars
Author: Maurice Broaddus
Series: Astra Black #1
Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: 2.5/5 stars
The Overview: The Muungano empire strived and struggled to form a utopia when they split away from old earth. Freeing themselves from the endless wars and oppression of their home planet in order to shape their own futures and create a far-reaching coalition of city-states that stretched from Earth and Mars to Titan. With the wisdom of their ancestors, the leadership of their elders, the power and vision of their scientists and warriors they charted a course to a better future. But the old powers could not allow them to thrive and have now set in motion new plots to destroy all that they’ve built. In the fire to come they will face down their greatest struggle yet. Amachi Adisa and other young leaders will contend with each other for the power to galvanize their people and chart the next course for the empire. Fela Buhari and her elite unit will take the fight to regions not seen by human eyes, but no training will be enough to bring them all home. Stacia Chikeke, captain of the starship Cypher, will face down enemies across the stars, and within her own vessel, as she searches for the answers that could save them all. The only way is forward. -Goodreads
Sweep of Stars was an interesting read.
The first half of the book was very much all about the characters – establishing the many POVs and introducing the reader to their society. My favorite thing about the book was this inspiring sense of community the group created – one where looking out for one another and doing things in the interest of the people rather than the self was commonplace. A place where everyone genuinely cared about one another and found this familial unity because of it. I think our world could use a bit more of the Muungano spirit. Granted, some characters were better at upholding the “Muungano way” more than others, but that’s where the story’s conflicts start to trickle in.
It took a while for the driving plot/purpose of the story to become evident – almost 50% through the book. I was wondering well before that if there WAS going to be an external conflict or if we’d be getting a more B.Chambers-style novel. Craving a bit more from the story, I thought the conflicts sparked a bit of life back into it and provided some decent momentum through the end of the book.
Because the novel was so character-driven from the start, I’m surprised that I didn’t have more of a connection to them. I think part of the problem was the shear number of POVs (7 or 8), so it took a long time to get back to any one character, effectively killing all the momentum. By the time the conflicts started hitting, I cared about what happened, but didn’t feel more than an arms-distance investment in the story as a whole. I think fewer characters and a quicker inciting (a clear one, anyway) moment would’ve gone a long way to improving my experience.
While most of the characters were written in the third person, one was written in second person, one in first, and one in (I believe) first person plural (like, “we do this, we do that”). I’m generally a lot more welcoming than many readers when it comes to authors playing with perspectives in books, especially if it’s incorporated for a purpose. It can lead to some cool payoffs, like the reason for the second-person perspective in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy (which is brilliant, and still one of my favorite reveals of anything I’ve read). In this case, I imagine the variety of perspectives was fun for the author to play around with, but I didn’t see evidence in this first book indicating it was any more than just a novelty.
To that end, and I’m by no means an expert on this, some of the perspective dynamics didn’t make sense to me. For example, if you have both an “I” (first person) and a “you” (second person) character, doesn’t that usually indicate that it’s the “I” character narrating both perspectives? Like, “I do this and you do that?” And if the two were to come together in the same scene, the “I” (let’s call him Bob) character wouldn’t say “you look at Bob,” he would say, “you look at ME.” … only, that didn’t happen in the book when the characters met, indicating that there are perhaps two “I” perspectives (or three, counting the “we” perspective) and we just haven’t met the third “I” yet? Lol are you confused yet?! I’m still trying to make the POV math add up in my head. The discrepancy wasn’t a huge detraction from the story, but thoughts about it did pull me out a lot more than I wish they had.
Creative POVs aside, the writing was very artfully done. The prose flowed well and some of the basic sentence construction choices screamed to me of a writer who knows his voice and conveys it well. Even though I didn’t always feel connected to the characters and the story, I still appreciated the writing.
As a minor note, I attempted to switch to audio several chapters in for my commute and found it a wildly different experience. The cultural cadence of the narrator put pauses into sentences that weren’t present in the text – giving the narrative a very disjointed feel that I don’t think served the beautiful writing style very well. Because of that I’d suggest going the text route with this one.
Recommendations: this is an interesting Scifi with some great initial ideas. If you enjoy more character-driven Scifi and don’t mind some creative perspectives infusions, this might be a great pick. To get the most out of the prose, skip the audio on this one.
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