[ARC Review] – The Cruel Stars

by John Birmingham
Published on: August 20, 2019

To me, space opera’s are just so much fun. An adventure across an entire galaxy is just so entertaining because it allows you to imagine bigger than what reality is. But while I enjoyed this story, it did have a bumpy beginning for me.


The galaxy was once terrorized by the Sturm, a group of “species purists” intent on destroying any human with genetic or cybernetic enhancements. Fashioning themselves as the one true “Human Republic,” the Sturm cut a bloody swath across the stars, killing billions before finally being defeated and driven into the far reaches of Dark Space. Centuries of peace bred complacency. Everyone believed the Sturm had died out in the Dark. They were wrong.

The enemy has returned and, with a brutal and decisive attack, knocks out almost all of humanity’s defenses. Now on the brink of annihilation, humankind’s only hope is a few brave souls who survived the initial attack: Commander Lucinda Hardy, thrust into uncertain command of the Royal Armadalen Navy’s only surviving warship. Booker3, a soldier of Earth, sentenced to die for treason, whose time on death row is cut short when the Sturm attack his prison compound. Princess Alessia, a young royal of the Montanblanc Corporation, forced to flee when her home planet is overrun and her entire family executed. Sephina L’trel, the leader of an outlaw band who must call on all of her criminal skills to resist the invasion. And, finally, Admiral Frazer McLennan, the infamous hero of the first war with the Sturm hundreds of years ago, who hopes to rout his old foes once and for all–or die trying.

These five flawed, reluctant heroes must band together to prevail against a relentless enemy and near-impossible odds. For if they fail, the future itself is doomed.


Always on the look out for a new space opera, I was very happy to get a copy of this one to read and review. The book is primarily from 5 different points of views, one of which is the story bad guy, Sturm, although his chapters are more limited than the others. Initially, each of these characters are initially introduced in their own chapter. Although this introduction and storytelling technique is not new there did seem to be a disconnect for me on how they all related to each other or if it was truly going to be 5 different stories that weren’t going to intersect at all. Because of this it took me a little ways into the book to feel ‘at home’ in what I was reading. However, eventually it becomes evident that there is a connecting factor and I found the story more satisfying when I was finally able to see this.

The main issue at hand for Sturm was also one that was intriguing to me. In essence, Sturm believes that natural humans is the correct way it needs to be. A natural human is one that is not harvest or generated, but born from other humans and lives only one life. However, the books protagonists are mostly non-natural humans. They live multiple lifetimes (consciousness is just downloaded into another body) and are not ‘born.’ On one hand the individuals we are rooting for perhaps live a life that I’m not sure I completely agree with. Having not faced this choice or decision in my life, it’s really difficult to say what I would do. However, Sturm’s way of making his point is quite barbaric and is something I strongly disagree with. So, it was interesting to me to have mental conversations with myself as the book went on about where I might stand on this fictional issue in this fictional world.

Overall, I would recommend this book to those who love space operas and multiple point of view books, although it might be a bit bumpy at the beginning of the ride.

Rating: 4 stars.

Thank you Netgalley and Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine for the advanced reader copy and the opportunity to provide an honest review.

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