Book Review: Steal the Stars

Adapted from a Tor Labs podcast series of the same name by Mac Rogers, Steal the Stars is a sci-fi love story full of drama and intrigue–a tale of forbidden romance, X-Files-esque extraterrestrial conspiracy, and an ill-advised heist, all wrapped up in a lingering sense of bleak noire cynicism.

The story centers on one Dakota “Dak” Prentiss, the Security Chief for Quill Marine, a naval base in Northern California that conducts legitimate marine biology studies to cover the fact that it’s actually a top secret research lab built directly on top of the site where an alien lifeform crash landed in its UFO 11 years prior. Funded by shady defense contractor Sierra Corporation, Quill Labs is gated by an onerous security protocol that puts all of its employees through an exhaustive series of checkpoints to gain access to and egress from the facility.

Basically, everyone who takes a post at Quill Labs is there forever, or until they become a liability. As the head of security, Dak is responsible for enforcing “turndown service” on those who fail security or can’t be trusted to return to normal life and maintain Quill’s big secret. This method of disposal isn’t as gruesome as the Breaking Bad boys dissolving bodies in acid, but it’s deadly and final all the same.

Quill also operates under a strict policy against fraternization amongst co-workers, a point that serves as the primary impetus for the events that transpire after Dak meets and engages in a lustful affair with Matt Salem, a newbie to the security team whom she immediately falls for while taking through his first pass through security and the life-or-death test introduction with the secreted alien. But their relationship has no hope of carrying on while they work for Quill, so their only chance at a life together outside is to use their knowledge of the alien discovery as a means of escape.

Dak is a really interesting and flawed character to follow all the way through her full story arc. She demonstrates both an outer strength and an inner vulnerability that create an attraction and fascination that you’re able to immediately gravitate to. She’s blunt and cynical and doesn’t take any shit, yet layers of jealousy and insecurity and loneliness are revealed through her copious inner-monologues that uncover a mercurial nature to her personality. You understand and sympathize with her feelings early on, but by the end her motivations and choices bring out a darker side that paints her in a less likable light. The lengths she goes to in order to escape the Quill trap and have a real life with Matt become tinged by deceit and betrayal. You want to root for her, but her questionable decision making may just cause you to rethink whether you should continue to do so.

Podcasts aren’t a medium that I personally find entertaining, so admittedly I haven’t listened to every episode from start to finish. However, to at least form a base level of comparison, after first reading the novel I did go back and listen to the story’s beginning and end, as well as a few other random scenes in between, while directly following along with the novelized text. Comparing from those parts, the story and dialogue are essentially identical. There are spots where in the book there’s a page or two of additional text between lines of dialogue that occur seamlessly in the podcast. So there is definitely a greater depth of insight that’s fleshed out in the novel, which is mostly good but can also be bad, because after crossing the halfway point in the book I did hit a few spots where I felt the story began to drag on longer than necessary.

One instantly noticeable difference from the podcast is the novel’s change to full first-person narration. Dak does break into narrated interludes throughout the podcast, but in the book it takes on a completely different feel as Dak isn’t describing things in third person but rather narrating events in their entirety to “you.” No, not directly to you, the reader, but you in reference to her love interest Matt Salem, like she’s reciting the whole story to him. From the beginning, Dak’s narration to Matt does a better job of building tension and suspense while foreshadowing the inevitability of an M. Night Shyamalan twist. It’s an interesting choice that I really enjoyed, though I imagine some readers might be put off and maybe even a little confused by the abundant “yous” and “you saids.”

Another interesting touch by author Nat Cassidy is the frequent use of bold lettering on the first two words at the start of certain paragraphs, a formatting trick used to indicate back and forth shifts in time or thought within the natural flow of a chapter. At first I thought this might become disjointed, but it actually reads smoothly in a way that makes sense with the storyline.

Nat Cassidy has done a fantastic job adapting Steal the Stars into a novel that can stand alone on its own merits, apart from the need to have any prior knowledge of or experience with the original podcast. In fact, I think sticking to one medium is the better option. I know from my own experience hearing the story acted out changed the way I viewed certain characters or scenes from the mental image I’d created while reading the novel. Steal the Stars is a gripping page-turner that builds around the basic elements of a great work of science fiction but ditches the action, interstellar travel, and grand set pieces of typical space opera fare to tell a more intimate and grounded story with tones and themes that are quite unique for the genre.

Buy From: Steal the Stars is available from Amazon.com and other bookstores for $15.99 in paperback or $9.99 in eBook.

Disclosure: A copy of Steal the Stars was provided to VGBlogger.com for review purposes by Tor Books.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles.

Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere.

Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn’t mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!