This is the sequel (it is a duology, not a trilogy) to Tin Star, a book I applauded for its diversity, gender flexibility, boundary-pushing, and intelligence. (See my review here.)
In Tin Star, Tula Bane from Earth was abandoned and left for dead on the distant space station of Yertina Feray when she was just short of 15. “Brother Blue,” the leader of the colonizing expedition on which Tula, her mother, and sister were traveling, thought Tula had become too dangerously observant of his unscrupulous activities, and he beat her until he thought she was dead.
After Blue departed Yertina Feray, a couple of aliens on the station found Tula and revived her, helping her learn how to survive. She was the only human on the station populated by aliens who did not think much of people from Earth. Eventually, she found a niche by wheeling and dealing and purveying information. But Tula was obsessed by wanting to find Brother Blue and get revenge.
Stone in the Sky begins a year later, and Tula is now proprietor of the Tin Star Café, where she sells the three things all beings in the universe crave: their home-world water, their home-world sweets, and salts – needed by every species. Tula loves the fact that everyone gets along in her cafe, in spite of the speciesism that is “de rigeur in the Imperium.”
[Indeed, the Imperium, which is the military governing force of the universe, encourages interspecies internecine conflict. As real-life political leaders on Earth have also found, the best way to maintain popular support for a governing body and to deflect too much scrutiny of, and aggression toward, the elites is to instigate (or not act to suppress) race and/or class and/or ideological resentments among the populace. Historically, people have all too readily bought into a disposition to direct their malice to those around them rather than to those who rule them. The Imperium’s governing strategy is much the same.]
Tula only has two real friends: Thado, the caretaker of the station arboretum, and Tournour, Chief Constable of Yertina Feray, who is in love with Tula. In addition, she has the companionship of Trevor, a souped-up robot made by a human, Caleb, who had stopped at the station the year before. Caleb, Reza, and Els, rare human visitors to the station, were members of the Imperium Guard. But they also, along with Tula, wanted to help Earth escape the clutches of the Imperium so it wouldn’t be stripped for resources. In Tin Star, Tula had a brief fling with Reza, and she helped Caleb and Reza escape when Brother Blue, now an agent of the Imperium Government, returned to Yertina Feray. (Els was killed by Brother Blue, who thought Els was Tula.)
As this book begins, Reza returns to Yertina Feray after discovering a goldmine of resources on Quint, the planet orbited by the space station. In search of this new wealth, Brother Blue also comes back to Yertina Feray. When he sees that Tula once again has evaded what he thought was her certain demise, he sentences her to death on trumped up charges, but Tournour and Reza conspire to allow Tula to flee the station. Tula then transfers from ship to ship in space, attempting to contact Caleb and sending intermittent coded messages to Tournour. At the same time, she is trying to figure out where to live, how to survive, and how to help the humans who are being betrayed and sent to their death by Brother Blue. And then there is the matter of her heart. Reza is still interested in Tula, and he is human. But what about Tournour? . . .
Discussion: Tula is a wonderful protagonist. She is smart and resourceful, and never relinquishes her optimism and moxy. She knows her obsession with Brother Blue is a big weakness, but she can’t seem to let it go. Her struggle with this idée fixe that prevents her from getting on with her own life is a recurrent theme.
In addition, these books do a great job of showing, without any exposition but just by virtue of the story, that looking different on the outside need not have any consequences for friendship, cooperation, or even something more.
The author also explores, in an interesting and creative way, how one’s body and mind might react to changing environments that vary so hugely, such as on different planets, or on a planet versus a space station versus a space ship.
I would have liked to see more development of how an interspecies relationship might work in the long term and all the issues that might arise from, say, interspecies mating. To that end, I would welcome it if this duology became a trilogy . . .
Evaluation: Although in Stone in the Sky some of the plotting seemed rushed and the prose not as polished as in the first book, I still loved spending time with this brave and big-hearted girl, Tula, who understood that – as The Little Prince learned, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Published by Roaring Book Press, a division of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, 2015