Cover of Stone in the Sky, featuring a young woman with tattoos and dark hair standing in front of a round space station.

About the Book

Title: Stone in the Sky (Tin Star #2)
Published: 2015
Series: Tin Star
Swoonworthy Scale: 6

Cover Story: Lonely World
BFF Charm: Let Me Love You
Talky Talk: Space Western
Bonus Factors: Worldbuilding, Diversity
Anti-Bonus Factor: Genocide
Relationship Status: Premium Water on the House

Spoiler alert: This review contains spoilers for the previous volume in the series, Tin Star.

Cover Story: Lonely World

The girl on the cover looks just like I imagine Tula, tough and vulnerable at the same time. They even included details like her tattoos (a minor spoiler): the gold Earth charm bracelet and the yellow alin flower petals. The metallic sphere in the sky must be the Yertina Feray, which is fitting, since she spends most of this book away from the station. She looks solitary, but not hopeless. It sums up the story pretty well.

The Deal:

Tula Bane is now a successful business owner and in a relationship with Constable Tournour, but she hasn’t forgotten her first love Reza, or her grudge against Brother Blue, the Imperium official who left her for dead on the Yertina Feray space station. When Reza discovers a valuable resource on a planet near the station, Brother Blue returns hoping to make a profit, and comes face to face with Tula for the first time in years. This could be her long-awaited chance to destroy him, but it might cost her everything else she values: her shop, her loved ones, and even the human species itself, since Brother Blue’s schemes are on a larger scale than anyone can imagine.

BFF Charm: Let Me Love You

BFF charm with teary eyes hugging a heart

Tula might be a confident businesswoman when she’s dealing with aliens, but after being betrayed and abandoned by her own species, just the sight of another human upsets her. She longs to connect with them, but fear, anger, and self-consciousness get in her way. In spite of this, she tries to help any humans she meets, even when they react with confusion or outright hostility. I would like to remind her not to give up on us … and maybe to stop thinking in barter terms for five minutes and remember that unconditional kindness does exist.

Swoonworthy Scale: 6

As a long-time Star Trek fan, I love watching a logical, stoic alien puzzle out the behavior of their emotionally volatile human mate, and Tournour and Tula definitely have this dynamic. “Are you comforted in a way that is helpful to you?” he asks her once after holding her hand and listening to her vent. It’s awkward and adorable at the same time, how hard they work to understand each other. Tournour being an Imperium collaborator who has to keep his true allegiance a secret adds a whole other layer of tension. Nothing says trust like letting your partner handcuff you. Also, I never thought I’d find antennae attractive on a guy, but when they’re still focused on her while he’s making every effort to look detached, or when she finds out just how sensitive they are … Yes, I can see that. 

Talky Talk: Space Western

Castellucci’s prose is sparse, with simple words and very little description, as befits practical Tula who is too busy surviving to care about aesthetics (although Tournour seems to bring out a poetic streak in her: “These alien eyes … filled me in a way that was uncharted”). The dialogue has an awkwardness that may or may not be deliberate, since they’re speaking Universal Galactic with the help of translator nanites. It’s a bit like watching a cowboy film in a foreign language with subtitles, especially when they exchange threats:

Trading partner: (grabs Tula’s arm) “An alien who wishes to stay alive never leaves a Hort in the middle of a negotiation.”

Tula: “You’ll take your stub off me or you’ll never come here again.”

It’s a style that works well for a story like this, but it’s not for everyone.

Bonus Factor: Worldbuilding

While the first book is set entirely on the Yertina Feray, Tula does a lot more traveling in this one, expanding our view of this universe as well as reminding us how high the stakes are, with so many worlds being controlled by the totalitarian Imperium. Her reaction to landing on an alien planet for the first time – physically ill, spiritually joyful, and homesick at the same time – feels very believable, and when she does a spacewalk later in the book, it’s clear that the author has done her research. 

Bonus Factor: Diversity

Faces of all different races, ethnicities and genders.

I don’t mean just alien diversity – although there’s that too – but real-world human racial and sexual diversity. Characters have different skin colors and multicultural names like Myfanwy Yu or Reza Wilson. Tula herself is ethnically ambiguous; she never mentions what she looks like, and though she once identifies as from the “Southwestern United States”, she is using a false identity at the time, so this may not be true. She’s hooked up with male and female humans in the past, and is now with Tournour, a male alien. Tournour, for his part, casually admits his attraction to both Tula and Reza (“He smells as nice as you do”). When two female characters fall in love with each other, no one bats an eye. This is all in deliberate – and beautiful – contrast to the Imperium, which controls species by keeping them separate. Tula’s barter network, which connects all kinds of different people through her and her trades, is what ends up saving them. Unlike in some dystopias, she doesn’t single-handedly tear down the entire regime, but what she does – fighting for her home and the people around her – is more than enough.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Genocide

A photograph of snowy railroad tracks leading to an imposing building

In an interview in the special edition of Tin Star, Castellucci told the interviewer that the book was inspired by the movie Casablanca. Stone in the Sky takes the World War II parallels even further, Holocaust and all. I won’t go into detail, but you may prefer not to read certain chapters on a full stomach.

Relationship Status: Premium Water on the House

Clean water is a luxury in space, and so is a hard-hitting but hopeful dystopia like this one. Like Tula lets Tournour run up an unlimited tab in her shop, I’ll always have room for this book.

Literary Matchmaking

Entangled (Entangled #1) 

For another “angry human meets logical alien” love story, read Entangled by A. R. Capetta.

Light Years (Light Years #1)

For another wartime romance on a space station whose political economy is a microcosm of the galaxy, read Light Years by Kass Morgan.

Adaptation (Adaptation #1)

If you wish the government conspiracy and queer romance had been more explicit, read Adaptation by Malinda Lo.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received no compensation for this review. Stone in the Sky is available now.

Regina Peters works in the video game industry, but her favourite imaginary worlds are on paper. She lives in Montreal, Canada, with her family.