In her debut novel, Hold Back the Stars, Katie Khan captured my attention immediately. Although I made it quite clear in my TBR that just about any book that mentions space in some way will draw me in, the promise of a romance plot sealed the deal; I knew that I would be reading Hold Back the Stars one way or another.
Khan’s novel is more than just a romance story with a space-themed backdrop, however. In some ways, it is a science fiction journey, in others, it’s a heartbreaking look at love and relationships. Furthermore, despite the Goodreads YA tag, Hold Back the Stars is most definitely a work of adult fiction.
This is an ARC review of Katie Khan’s Hold Back the Stars, which releases today.
*Special thanks to Gallery Books for allowing us to review ahead of publication.
If you’ve always dreamed of going into space or having a futuristic lifestyle, you might want to reconsider your options. While there’s an element of fantasy and curiosity that draws you into the idea of space travel and a futuristic universe, despite advancements in technology, there’s always the possibility of something dangerous happening.
Set in a future world that encompasses all of the remaining former countries as separate Voivodes named Europia, Hold Back the Stars takes place primarily in a futuristic utopia. While we aren’t made aware of how all of these countries on Earth became a part of Europia, we do know that there are places that exist outside of the “utopia” and a devastating nuclear fallout has occurred between the United States and the Middle East.
Hold Back the Stars opens with the unbelievable; Carys and Max are floating deeper and deeper into a destructive asteroid belt that is separating earth from the rest of the universe. If the idea of getting hit by an asteroid wasn’t terrible enough, they only have ninety minutes of oxygen remaining. That’s right–ninety minutes to figure out a way to save themselves, even though they are falling further and further away from their damaged ship, the Laertes.
Khan alternates between the present, which includes Max and Carys working through possible solutions that might bring them back to their ship, and the past, where we find out what has brought them to this situation in the first place.
Admittedly, the present tense portions of the novel, while incredibly interesting, were difficult to read. Something about them felt a little off writing wise. Maybe because it’s written in third-person, present tense. More than anything, I think it was more the use of dialogue that bothered me. Obviously, dialogue is important, especially in a book like this, but it was a little jarring to read. One of my favorite chapters was actually one in which we are given a third person, present tense view of Max and Carys, but there’s no dialogue because they have briefly lost the ability to communicate.
As Max and Carys make their way through a number of potential solutions to bring them closer to their ship, we are presented with glimpses of the past, spurred on by an attempt to make their remaining time together last, while arguably avoiding the sense of panic that comes with the idea of impending death.
Through these interludes, we learn more about life on Europia and gain a greater understanding of the dystopian setting. Europia has a number of rules that limit interactions and relationships–claiming that each and every person should live in their own name, as individuals. In order to promote individualism, a rotation system is in effect, wherein each member of Europia is required to move between Voivodes at random, every three years. In addition to somewhat limiting relationships through the rotation program, a Couples Rule is in effect–meaning that marriage and even serious romantic relationships are not permitted before the age of 35.
In short, this rule makes the relationship between Max and Carys rather strained. After meeting by chance, the two start a relationship with one another that is secretive, as Max is from a founder family, meaning that he has grown up believing in the Couples Rule and all things in favor of Europia. Carys, on the other hand, has a different world view, having grown up in a more liberal family.
Despite attempts to hide their relationship as best they can, a number of things happen that alter their individual world views on life and relationships. As they make memories and go through a few traumatic experiences along the way, Max and Carys realize that they are meant for each other, and, in an attempt to make their relationship more official and acceptable, they are eventually sent into space as “volunteers” to test the power and capability of couples as a working team. In trying to keep this as spoiler-free as possible (because everyone loves a good romance), the two are sent into space on a trial run that is meant to benefit Europia, while potentially altering the restrictions surrounding relationships and the Couples Rule.
As you learn more about Carys and Max, you slowly find yourself rooting for them, and hoping that they both somehow make it out alive. Khan manages to make the characters, as well as their relationship, incredibly relatable–so much so that you can’t help but feel for them as they recount the good and bad times. I would be lying if I said that this book didn’t have me in tears; a few chapters are that powerful.
In addition to the heartfelt moments that cause you joy as you slowly uncover bits and pieces of their relationship, Khan gives the reader more to love by creating three endings. And, while you might think that it means they are all happy–they are most definitely not what you are expecting. At all. Instead of giving the reader a single, definitive option, Khan leaves the story somewhat open-ended and it’s wonderful.
Hold Back the Stars is like nothing I have ever read before. It’s deceptively simple at first glance but transforms into a powerful work that details family, love, and relationships. It’s a romance novel that manages to fill you with joy, fear, and despair all in one, thanks to the light sci-fi elements that make the story incredibly captivating from the very beginning.
If you are looking for a fast-paced, captivating and incredibly charming love story, Hold Back the Stars is for you.