"Light from Uncommon Stars" review


Title: Light from Uncommon Stars

Author: Ryka Aoki

Subgenre: Science fiction

2022 Bingo squares: Standalone (HM), Anti-hero, Readalong, Urban fantasy (HM), Mental health (HM), Award Finalist, BIPOC author, Shapeshifters (HM), Ifs/Ands/Buts (HM), Family Matters

Recommended if: you enjoy character-driven, lyrical novels and/or are looking for a well-written novel featuring a trans main character. Also if you play the violin and think there isn’t enough fiction featuring violins.

Not recommended if: you don’t want to read a book that comes with a lot of content warnings: transphobia, deadnaming, microaggressions, misgendering, sexual assault, reluctant sex work, lack of acceptance from one’s parents, etc.

LGBTQ rep: Trans main character and a lesbian romance; there’s also a very minor nonbinary character

Stars: 5/5


Light From Uncommon Stars dances between the viewpoints of violin teacher Shizuka Satomi, violin student and video game music aficionado Katrina Nguyen, and interstellar alien refugee and donut-shop owner Lan Tran. Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil (literally): Deliver seven souls of seven prodigies and she gets to keep her own. Six of these have been delivered successfully, and Katrina’s is to be the last. But Katrina, trans and unaccepted by her parents, with music her only outlet, isn’t like Shizuka’s other students, and Shizuka may not be able to bring herself to complete this particular bargain - no matter the cost.

From video game and anime music to holographic displays to Asian food, Light From Uncommon Stars takes the reader on a journey that encompasses all of the senses, with picturesque descriptions that fully immerse you in Southern California. And both the characters and the story that accompany the setting do it complete justice. Katrina’s experiences in particular are intense, and I definitely cried for her at a couple points, both sad tears and happy tears.

Also very cool to me personally was the novel’s recognition of video game and anime music - I personally listen to a ton of these genres and absolutely love them. And they are totally legit music! Lindsey Stirling is indeed amazing, and I actually am in awe that I just read a fantasy novel that mentioned her by name!?!?!!? How cool is that!!! Some other Youtubers I recommend who do video game covers (but don’t all play the violin):

A couple games to check out the soundtracks for if you’re interested are Stellaris, Braid, Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty, Tales of Zesteria, and Spiritfarer. I also recommend following the Twitter account press_a_acl; every year, they put out a list of the best video game OSTs, and that’s where I get most of my new music from (other than Broadway musicals, my other greatest love). It’s one of the things I look forward to the most every year.

I am not kidding about being super into video game music. But, uh, this is a book review. Right.

I have only one criticism of the novel, which is its frequent POV shifts: there are maybe a dozen characters afforded POV sections, and this book really does POV sections, not chapters. On the one hand, this narrative style works to give the reader as wide a descriptive view of the characters as they get of the setting, music, and foods, but for the most part it’s a bit jarring and at times can even be confusing. Conversations will switch POVs back and forth between the two participants with dizzying speed, and it’s just a bit much to take in.

Still, for a book that does so many things right, this is a very minor criticism, and it does not stop me from recommending Light From Uncommon Stars wholeheartedly. It’s not an unconditional recommendation because the book does come with a fair number of content warnings, and if you aren’t comfortable reading emotionally heavy books this is certainly not one for you. But provided that’s not a reason for you to stay away from it, then in that case this book is a beautiful story with powerful characters that I cannot recommend enough.

Cover of Light from Uncommon Stars

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River is a MediaWiki developer and admins Leaguepedia. This blog contains her fantasy novel reviews.