Tin Star is a very difficult novel for me to review because I prefer to have wonderful, positive things to say about the books I read. However, despite diligently reading the entire 241 pages I cannot understand all the four and five star reviews for this book on Good Reads and other review sites. I found it dull and lacking much characterization, and while the ending was different than I anticipated, I wasn’t overly shocked because I simply didn’t care about Tula’s fate.
The novel opens with nearly fifteen year old Tula Bane being nearly beaten to death and abandoned by Brother Blue, the charismatic leader of a human isolationist colonization group called Children of Earth, on remote space station, Yertina Feray. She is rescued by a non-human species called a Hort, Heckleck, and manages to survive on the station for three years through studying and learning his techniques for getting clients what they ask for. Her only goal is to track down Brother Blue and assassinate him. However, the Yertina Feray is not as isolated as its inhabitants think, and everything changes when three new humans dock at the station after escaping their exploding spacecraft.
None of these elements are bad; in fact, if presented differently, Tula’s story could have riveted me. The idea of a young human in a completely alien environment surrounded by non-human species who are at least wary and at worst openly hostile towards her fascinates me because it is an extreme example of cultural acclimation. The fight for survival in a seamy underworld on a space station also draws me in like a moth to a flame. So what’s the problem?
My biggest issue with Tin Star is that there is almost no real plot for the first eighty pages of the book! Tula and Heckleck wander through their lives without showing readers anything; they simply tell us what they have done or experienced. Even when something exciting like the Hocht, a sanctioned fight to resolve quarrels between two members of the same non-human species, occurs during these pages it is mentioned to explain the rules and then glossed over. While the mention of the rules of a Hocht is significant for later events, it should have been shown or the rules should have been explained at a later point where it was more immediately relevant.
The descriptions are also very sparse throughout the book, and I really wanted more about the station and the environment. For all I could tell Tula lived in a weird tin can floating in space that somehow was divided into floors and compartments. With the rich world of a space station populated by numerous often insectoid non-humans, there was plenty of room for world-building. However, most of it was barely developed in the text, which was disappointing for a reader like myself who wants the words to help me build pictures in my mind.
The sparse descriptions also played into my feeling that the characterization was very flat. I never got enough insight into Tula to care about her or her decisions. While I could understand her anger toward Brother Blue, I never got a strong read on her other motivations, and she seemed more inhuman than most of the “aliens” in the cast.
Now onto the use of the word “aliens” repeatedly in the text: in a society where multiple races have achieved space travel and have interacted with other races would they really be using the word “alien” to describe everyone not of their species? It seemed particularly jarring to me when non-human species used the term for other non-humanoids but then called Tula “human.” What is so special about humans that they’re not the same as the other “aliens?” Why wouldn’t all races and species be referred to by their species/race name by others outside of the group? I realize this is semantics, but I was annoyed by it throughout the book.
My final major gripe with Tin Star is that with a plethora of political and intergalatic intrigue related story lines for Tula, the plot throws in a romantic plot where it really isn’t necessary. I realize that it is natural for a 17/18 year old girl to be hormonally poised for pairing off, but the instalust aspect of it was not appealing to me. It felt shoehorned in just so it could be marked on a YA plot checklist.
I do think that other readers may get more pleasure out of Tin Star than I did. It simply didn’t work for me.
2.5 Illicit Trades out of 5
Tin Star will be released on February 25, 2014.