I received Hold Back The Stars in exchange for an honest review.
Hold Back The Stars was a beautiful, unusual book. It blends multiple themes and genres – science fiction, a utopian future and a romance – split between earth and space. But the heart of this story is definitely romance – a story of first love and two people whose relationship is strong enough to challenge the status quo.
We meet Carys and Max as they’re floating in space with ninety minutes of oxygen left in their tanks and no way back to their ship. As the minutes tick away, the star-crossed lovers try everything they can think of to get back to safety. It’s tense, edge-of-your-seat stuff from the very first page.
The author intercepts the chapters set in space with flashbacks to how the couple met, and the actions which lead them to end up orbiting the earth with no one to help. The world the pair live in on earth is not the world we know – America is barren following a war, and in Europe they’ve renounced religion and created a new utopian world, one based upon individualism.
The new utopian system requires all citizens to adhere to a set of rules, designed to create a perfect society of independent, educated individuals. One of these rules is Rotation, which means that no person stays in the same place for too long, allowing everyone to experience a myriad of different cultures but also halting the development of meaningful relationships. Another is the no couples rule – this society believes that people shouldn’t begin to consider settling down until in their mid thirties.
The alternative society is intelligently explained and, to some degree, it makes logical sense. But there’s always exceptions to the rules, and when Carys and Max meet in their mid twenties, they’re not willing to give each other up without a fight.
Katie Khan’s world-building is fantastic but her character development is even better. Despite the sci-fi, fantasy setting, Max and Carys’s relationship felt incredibly authentic and relatable. Both characters were likeable without being cliche, and the author explores all aspects of a relationship – both good and bad.
Weaving back and forth between the couple’s developing relationship on earth and their time in orbit as the time ticks down makes for an emotional rollercoaster, one that packs a punch on multiple levels. And, this is one that doesn’t let go until the very end – the last few chapters were absolutely genius. I hope this one get the recognition it deserves in 2017, it’s a truly brilliant debut.