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Book Review Tuesday (4/11/23) – Stars & Smoke

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

Here’s the thing—I’m not sure if I would read this book if it weren’t for Marie Lu. It’s not the kind of story that I would normally pick up, but if I’ve learned one thing as a longtime fan, it’s that she’s deft at writing for a variety of different genres. After finishing Stars and Smoke, it proved my point—I probably wouldn’t have read it otherwise, but it was still a fun read.

Enjoy this week’s review!

Stars and Smoke (Stars and Smoke, #1) – Marie Lu

Winter Young is on top of the world. The former backup dancer has had a meteoric rise to fame with his solo career, with sold-out tours and chart-topping albums every year. But his talents are wanted elsewhere—as a spy.

For Sydney Cosette, Winter is the key to taking down Eli Morrison, a prominent crime boss. After Morrison’s daughter, Penelope, requests a private concert for her birthday, Sydney and her colleagues recruit him for the Panacea Group, a spy organization willing to do the dirty work that most won’t do. Winter is the perfect opportunity to infiltrate Eli Morrison’s rank—and take him down for good. But sparks are flying between Winter and Sydney—sparks that could compromise the mission itself…

TW/CW: poisoning, murder, loss of loved ones

I’ve been a fan of Marie Lu since middle school, and she’s become an autobuy author for me, no matter the story—in my experience, she’s shown herself to be incredibly versatile when it comes to hopping genres. When I saw the description for this book, I knew one thing: I probably wouldn’t have read this book had her name been on it. It didn’t seem like my type of story. And although that’s still true, Marie Lu gave it her best shot at that magic touch that she applies to every novel she writes.

Lu said that in the acknowledgements that after the pandemic and all of the chaos and awful things that have happened as of late, this book was meant to be a piece of light escapism to distract from it all. Given how dark some of her works have gotten, I really respect creating a book just for that purpose—some days you can’t swallow a whole, literary masterpiece full of emotional turmoil. And as with every other novel she’s written, Lu achieves that goal perfectly. Stars and Smoke is pure fun—it’s the YA version of an action-packed blockbuster, filled with fun and romance. Lu keeps the plot and pace going steadily, and I never found myself getting bored.

However, even though most of the book hinged on the premise of said romance, it barely felt fleshed out. In the last 2-3 years, I’ve seen the “enemies to lovers” trope being slapped on advertisements and blurbs for books as a selling point from its popularity from both fan fiction and BookTok. Listen—I adore the dynamic when it’s done well, but the trope has become such a buzzword that a lot of authors seem to have forgotten what it’s really about. All too often, the stretch between “enemies” and “lovers” is virtually nonexistent, making for a half-baked romance that ends up feeling like it has no chemistry—going to complete disgust to head-over-heels in love in no time at all.

Stars and Smoke, unfortunately, fell into this trap as well, which is frankly surprising, since Marie Lu has done enemies-to-lovers (and romance in general) well before. Winter and Sydney seemed to have hardly any chemistry at all—they seemed to go from “eh, I really don’t want to work with [x]” (and vice versa) to “excuse me while I write a chart-topping love confession for [x]” in a very short span of time. The “enemies” part was very understated too—not that I’m complaining, but if anything, it was more “mild annoyance to sorta lovers, I guess” than anything. Again: enemies to lovers has become a complete buzzword. Trope terms are helpful, but love is often more complicated than that, and the key to getting them right is to recognize the nuance beyond the basic premise of the trope.

All in all, a light, fun novel that lacked in the romance department, but delivered in the pure escapism that it promised. 3.5 stars!

Stars and Smoke is the first in a planned duology, concluding with an as-of-yet unnamed sequel set to be released sometime in 2024. Marie Lu is also the author of the Legend series (Legend, Prodigy, Champion, and Rebel), the Young Elites trilogy (The Young Elites, The Rose Society, and The Midnight Star), the Warcross duology (Warcross and Wildcard), the standalone Kingdom of Back, the Skyhunter duology (Skyhunter and Steelstriker), and many other books for children and young adults.

Today’s song:

criminally short

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!



book blogger, aspiring author, music nerd, comics fan, stargazer. ☆ she/her ☆ ISFJ ☆ bisexual ☆ spd ☆ art: @spacefacedraws pfp by @cybersoybean (picrew)

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