Hello, everyone! Today I’m reviewing A Circle of Stars by Craig Montgomery, which will be published on June 16, 2023 in paperback and digital. I randomly bumped into this book while doomscrolling my FYP on TikTok and was instantly captivated by the cover. So, I had to sign up for the ARC team! 🙂 The author is currently running a pre-order campaign with some really cool swag items. All you have to do is pre-order the paperback and submit your info on this form.
Sometimes you have to leave home to find it…
All Casper Bell has ever wanted is to belong. But now, abandoned by his friends and family after being outed, he has nothing left to lose when the people of Novilem abduct him. Except Earth.
Teleported to a world where stars grant humans magic, Casper discovers he has the rare ability to draw power from all twelve astrological signs — a gift that makes him a political pawn for the Estellar Council. But Novilem’s inhabitants seem as hard and cold as the stone their city is carved from, and Casper’s new role leaves him more isolated than ever. Until he meets the grandson of the council’s most powerful woman. Helix is kind, playful, and heartbreakingly handsome, yet it’s how Helix makes him feel that gives Casper hope.
As rebellion brinks in the city, even the Council starts to fracture, reaching for extreme measures that could cost Casper not only his newfound abilities, but the first place he has ever wanted to call home. Together with Helix, he must uncover the secrets of
his full potential — because the survival of Novilem hinges on Casper’s powers, whether he’s using them or not.
Set inside a hidden lunar city, where astrology is magic and your birth sign defines your social status, A Circle of Stars is a queer young adult fantasy filled with political intrigue and romance.
***Thank you to the author for providing a copy of the book. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***
I was invested in these characters and this story from the very first chapter. It started with the emotional gut punch of every queer kid’s worst nightmare, being outed and thrown out on the street with nowhere to go. I immediately wanted to give Casper a hug. The story went in a fascinating direction after the heart-wrenching start, literally out of this world, and incorporated a captivating blend of fantasy, science fiction, and coming-of-age elements that kept my eyes glued to the pages until the very end.
The world-building in this book was so elaborate, and I appreciated getting to experience it all first-hand through Casper’s point of view. The magic system was based on astrology, and people gained different powers from the stars based on when they were born. The history of this society and its many secrets kept my interest piqued, and I enjoyed how the author slowly exposed different aspects of the magic and history as the story unfolded. I also adored that Novilem was a queer-normative world because it provided a great opportunity to see Casper’s reaction to that kind of acceptance. That being said, the world-building wasn’t always very efficient or understandable. There was a lot to take in, and things weren’t always explained well. It was all still very fascinating, but I would have enjoyed the book even more if some aspects of the world were clearer much earlier, especially in regard to the magic.
The pacing and plot were my biggest issues with this book. The pace was quite uneven, with things often happening in jarring starts and stops with lulls in between. For example, Casper was abducted to the other world almost immediately after being thrown out of his house. It made the inciting incident of the book feel forced and created a lot of unanswered questions. How did they know he was the Telos? Why didn’t they abduct him as a baby instead and indoctrinate him into the role rather than having to train him so quickly? After his abrupt abduction, the book slows down significantly during his training before ratcheting up again later. However, the author did do a fantastic job of utilizing the alternating POVs to smooth out some of the pacing. When one POV slowed down, one of the others picked up a bit, and it definitely helped keep the story feel like it was moving forward while also adding to the world-building by giving the reader insights from people raised in this alien society.
As for the plot, this was a case where I really liked all the different components but not necessarily how they came together. I enjoy mystery, political intrigue, and a good coming-of-age story, and this book had all of that and more. I think the problem boiled down to having too many competing elements. By the end, it just all felt a bit muddled and convoluted. I had some trouble following all the interconnections between the different groups and their histories, and I think the book would have been stronger if it had been pared down some. I enjoyed the intrigue while reading and was constantly curious to see how it all came together, but in the end, it didn’t totally deliver. The book attempted to have a wide-ranging social revolution arc while also having a ‘big bad.’ While I enjoyed reading about the revolution, the character meant to be the big threat seemed really superficial and tacked on to the larger story, which made the ending less impactful for me.
I think I’ve said this already, but I adored the characters in this book. Both Casper and Helix grew up under the weight of extreme expectations that squashed their individuality. They also both experienced their worlds completely crumble, which left them with being themselves and following their own motivations and morals for the first time. I also really liked how the author had Helix navigate and come to terms with understanding how his immense privilege impacted his upbringing and his relationships with everyone around him. Speaking of relationships, Casper and Helix are definitely couple goals. lol. They were so cute together, and I’m so glad the author didn’t use miscommunication to make their romance more dramatic. Instead, their budding romance illustrated how to use good communication to resolve conflict and build a deeper connection with a partner. I just really enjoyed their individual journeys of self-discovery and self-acceptance, as well as their healthy and adorable partnership.
I feel like this review is probably coming across much more negative than I intended. So, I’m going to spend a minute just gushing about some of the other things I loved. The author did a wonderful job of bringing the alien world to life and writing a harrowing account of what it was like to live on its surface. The ecosystem was fascinating, horrifying, and totally riveting. The parts of the book where Casper and Helix had to battle against the elements on the foreign world were probably my favorite because we got to see the two boys bond amidst such a vividly imagined backdrop. I also really loved the third POV character and her intense love for her daughter. She provided the perspective of the commoner, as well, and I don’t think the social revolution plot would have been nearly as good without her take on the pitfalls of the Novilem political system.
Overall, I definitely recommend this book if you enjoy a good mix of science fiction, fantasy, and MM teen romance. It tackled some big themes and had impressive world-building and characters it was easy to route for. I think it bit off a little more than it could chew plot-wise, but there are definitely plenty of questions left to be answered by the sequel, which I will definitely be picking up. Therefore, I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars.