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Book Review: Light From Uncommon Stars, by Ryka Aoki

Light From Uncommon Stars
Ryka Aoki
Hardcover / Ebook
ISBN: 978-1250789068
Tor Books, September 2021, 384 pgs

Ryka Aoki’s latest novel, Light From Uncommon Stars from Tor Books, is a beautiful adventure and tale of queer community, love, and talent. Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil to get seven violin prodigies to sell their souls for fame and success. For her last soul, Shizuka goes looking for talent in the San Gabriel Valley and finds it and more among the storefronts and people who call it home.

Shizuka’s seventh soul and one of the biggest heartbeats of the book is Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway who can hear violins sing and plays music so unique that Shizuka knows she must claim Katrina’s soul for hell. The other heartbeat of Light From Uncommon Stars comes in the form of queer romance over donuts, no less.

And the donuts! Before reading Aoki’s novel, I did some digging to figure out what (beyond great queer content) Light From Uncommon Stars was about. The first aspect of the story that caught my attention was the spaceship and aliens masquerading as a donut shop and its employees. What a wild combination! Donuts are amazing, and spaceships are amazing; I don’t know why it’s taken so long for the two to meet. I loved and agonized over how detailed and tantalizing Aoki’s descriptions of the donuts were, too.

I couldn’t sit down to read without craving one of the giant, frosted donuts. The focus and detail placed on the donuts spread across every aspect of the book, creating a sense of connected community. Halfway through the book, I knew the neighborhood, felt comfortable and afraid in Shizuka’s presence, and always wanted to hear Katrina play. Aoki wonderfully describes these moments and elements in a way that pushes the story forward at a sometimes break-neck speed.

Another part of the novel and Aoki’s writing that I enjoyed was the blend of genres. Shizuka and Katrina’s story feels fantastical, almost like a modern fairytale. Then there’s the story of Shizuka’s love interest, Lan Tran, a retired starship captain and interstellar refugee who owns the starship/donut shop. Their story feels like a literal star-crossed lovers’ story—a blending of science fiction with the fantastical.

Both storylines or genres meet and blend in a way that’s as delicious as Starrgate Donut’s treats. Though the story isn’t cozy science fiction, the story, characters, and setting are something I found highly engaging and enthralling. I wanted to go back to the pages to see how the characters’ relationships developed and what would happen next.

Aigner Loren Wilson

Aigner Loren Wilson - A side profile of a Black woman staring out at the sea with the ocean, cliffs, and trees in the background.

Aigner Loren Wilson is a queer Black writer of speculative fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and games. She serves as a senior fiction editor at Strange Horizons and has guest-edited issues of Fireside Fiction and Apparition Literary Magazine. Her work has appeared in FIYAH, Anathema, Arsenika, and other publications. When she’s not writing or editing for others, she’s learning, hiking, or loving on her fur babies—both human and animal. To check out her books, games, bread bakes, and other writings visit her website (aignerlwilson.com).