Her fantasy debut, Steal the Sky, won the Gemmell Morningstar Award and her space opera debut, Velocity Weapon was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award.
FORMAT/INFO: The Blighted Stars was released on May 23rd, 2023 from Orbit Books. It is 544 pages split over 70 chapters and an epilogue. It is told in third person from multiple POVs, including Naira Sharp and Tarquin Mercator. It is available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook formats.
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Mercator family has built their business empire on mining a mineral necessary for humans to survive in space – but they may be killing off all habitable planets in the process. That’s what revolutionary Naira Sharp believes, and she will do whatever it takes to stop the Mercators from destroying any more planets. So when an opportunity arises for Naira to pose as the bodyguard to Tarquin Mercator, heir to the Mercator family, she seizes it. What she didn’t count on was crash landing on a dead planet with Tarquin and a handful of other survivors – or that the planet would contain the answers to why everything the Mercators touch seems to die.
The Blighted Stars is a mysterious survival space thriller that makes for an engaging ride, though it felt like it was missing some tension. I want to come clean with some bias right up front: Velocity Weapon by O’Keefe is one of my favorite science fiction books, so the bar for her new series was incredibly high. While The Blighted Stars is definitely a good book, I couldn’t help feeling it was lacking in some way, and some of that might be from unfair expectations. Velocity Weapon and the subsequent books were full of twists that sent the plot into some jaw-dropping places, and while The Blighted Stars had its own reveals, it’s a more straightforward story than its predecessor.
On the good side, the author has brought us another great futuristic sci-fi world, one where humanity has figured out how to print bodies and transfer consciousnesses around like data packets, able to escape death by downloading into a new body, albeit with some caveats. For instance, it’s not a flawless procedure; a violent, traumatic death can sometimes cause the upload of a brain map to “crack,” rendering it trapped in trauma and effectively unable to function. That removes some of the safety net that brain backups provide, as you never know if your next death will be your last.
The Blighted Stars also keeps you on your toes from the beginning. Within the first handful of pages our heroes find themselves on a ship under attack and in a catastrophic situation, and absolutely nothing goes how it is supposed to. The planet is already dead when the ship arrives, and nobody knows what killed it. There’s plenty of intrigue and tension to be found in the balance of investigating this mystery while also surviving the hazards of a crumbling planet, and those were parts I definitely engaged with.
(Also a quick shout out to a few brief chapters from an AI’s point of view, which were some of the best parts of the book. Unsettling and incredibly well done!)
The parts that lacked some tension were mostly between the characters. The story largely takes place from the POV of Naira and Tarquin, two characters who are on the same planet and almost always together. You automatically know the thoughts and goals of these two key players, so you’re never left wondering as to their motivations. And this is where my expectations and what the book was trying to accomplish probably didn’t align. I wanted more of a paranoid thriller of wondering who you can trust; The Blighted Stars is more interested in two people working through their trauma and their worldviews as they work together to understand what happened to this planet.
CONCLUSION: The Blighted Stars is a fun read for those interested in a survivalist horror story. It’s got creepy adversaries, a hazardous planet, and quickly decreasing options for escape. It’s not an expansive space opera, but a focused tale in one corner of the universe, with plenty of runway for the next book in the series to continue this eerie adventure.