The front cover for The Blighted Stars by Megan E. O'Keefe. The lower half of the page shows a dead planet. A man is knelt examining the soil, a woman stands over him with a gun. In the sky there are three planets.

The Blighted Stars

The Blighted Stars by Megan E. O’Keefe from @orbitbooks #BookReview #SciFi #CliFi

The Blighted Stars by Megan E. O’Keefe

Orbit Books, pb, £9.99

Reviewed by Sarah Deeming

The front cover for The Blighted Stars by Megan E. O'Keefe. The lower half of the page shows a dead planet. A man is knelt examining the soil, a woman stands over him with a gun. In the sky there are three planets.

Naira Sharp believes that the Mercator family is responsible for the destruction of cradle worlds, Earth-like worlds that can support human life. Every time the Mercator family’s ships arrive at a cradle world to harvest relkatite, a mineral used to extend human life, before colonising the planet, the shroud lichen soon follows, destroying everything. But when she turned whistleblower on her former employee, Tarquin Mercator, geologist and youngest son of the Acaelus Mercator, head of the family, took the stand in a public inquiry and testified against her.

His experience and knowledge saw Naira iced, her body destroyed, and her consciousness stored away indefinitely. So why is Naira awake again and in the body of her replacement, Acaelus Mercator’s new bodyguard and onboard a ship heading towards the Sixth Cradle with Tarquin Mercator? And if the Mercator family are responsible for spreading shroud lichen, why is the Sixth Cradle already covered in it before they have even landed? Naira will need Tarquin’s help to solve the mystery and bring the Mercator family down, but can she play nice long enough to achieve her goals?

Have you ever read a book so good you didn’t want to read it because if you did, it would be finished, and you’d have to wait for the next one? That’s how The Blighted Stars made me feel. From the start, we are in the thick of the action, onboard a large spaceship that has just been fired upon by its sister ship, and everyone is running for the escape pods. That tension and pace didn’t let up throughout the book and kept us moving from one disaster or mystery to another. Character development is continual, too, with Tarquin having the most to learn from the whole experience, both about himself and the way the world works.

The world-building is particularly spectacular. People are living longer because they can upload their personalities into printed bodies, so on long space missions, people can be stored and then printed when they arrive at their destination. The mineral relkatite is crucial to this process; without it, people would be stuck with normal lifespans, and who wants that? Even being stored indefinitely until your phoenix fees are paid and a new body printed is preferable to true death. But it isn’t without risk as a person can be cracked if they die a very traumatic death or a reprinted into a new body while still in the original. There is a price to pay for living so long.

The world is also very hierarchical, with the Mercator family and their peers akin to kings and queens to the point that they have the suffix liege before their names. It adds a new level of punishment to Naira that she has to be so respectful to the man she hates. There is a wonderful scene where Naira speaks freely to Tarquin, pointing out that his approach to separating himself from his father by being more amiable and friendly is more upsetting for the Mercator employees because they don’t know where they stand. Her dressing down is full of bile and vitriol, but Tarquin takes it on board, learning from her rather than being offended. Well, not too offended. This added tension between them brings added depth to all their interactions.

There are plenty of twists and turns, some obvious, like the hate/love relationship between Naira and Tarquin, but honestly, who doesn’t love a good enemy-to-lovers story when it’s done properly like this is. Others are more surprising, so I won’t tell you here but encourage you to read it yourself.

The Blighted Stars is the first in a new series by O’Keefe called The Devoured Worlds, and a standout 5 star read. Highly recommended.

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