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Sky Without Stars: System Divine, Book 1

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Sky Without Stars:  System Divine, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Compelling, epic start to sci-fi series based on "Les Miz."

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

This retelling of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables may inspire fans of the movie or musical to read the book, or to compare this version with the original. Some words and phrases in French with context clues, and a lot of words are derived from French, like "Laterre," or written with French-type suffixes, like "cruiseur" for police cruiser.

Positive Messages

Knowing the truth can be painful, but it's the only way to really understand yourself and your world. It's not right for some to live in luxury at the expense of others. Injustice and inequality that's never addressed will lead to revolution.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The three main characters, all older teens, are all pretty self-absorbed. Chatine just wants out of her miserable life, and although she feels bad about it, she's willing to steal and betray so she can get enough money for passage off her home planet. Eventually it becomes too much for her, and she feels that her punishment is deserved. Marcellus has never questioned the regime and wants to assume his rightful place in it, but as his eyes open to the injustices of the regime he starts to realize it's not right. Alouette is tired of being kept in the dark about her family's past and wants answers. She's determined to join the sisterhood that took her and her father in, and wants to help preserve what knowledge they have left of human history. A few adults are good role models of love and care, but most are harsh or abusive.

Violence

Occasional beatings and fights with punching, kicking, and hitting with heavy objects. Small amounts of blood and some pain are described briefly without gore, although a few times crunching sounds are mentioned. Physical abuse is hinted at when a character thinks about how his bruises are always in places that can be hidden by clothes. A public execution by a device like a slow guillotine mentions screams and the smell of burning flesh. An important plot point involves the death by poisoning of a three-year-old; death by cyanide poisoning is clinically described. Law enforcement robots and cyborgs use guns that can paralyze or kill. Young women sell their blood in "blood brothels." A couple of large-scale disasters like explosions mention dead bodies and massive destruction. A scene in a morgue is creepy but not gory or explicit.

Sex

A couple of kisses vaguely described. Teens think about physical attraction, romance, and being in love. One mention of when a boy's "balls" will drop, as in when he'll become a man.

Language

Rare uses of "damn," "whores," "balls," and "tette" (French for "t-t").

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A couple of minor adult characters have alcoholic tendencies; one is a criminal, violent, and abusive. Drunk men seen at a festival. A tavern is a brief setting. Several mentions that the poor drink "weed wine," which the teen characters don't like. Although once Marcellus briefly wishes he had some weed wine to help with a headache. Someone gets an injection to relieve pain from an injury.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Sky Without Stars is the first in a planned sci-fi series, and at just under 600 pages in the first installment, it's best for strong readers. This far-future epic set on the French planet Laterre borrows heavily from Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, and could inspire readers to watch the movie musical or read the original. Violence is mostly fights with punching, kicking, and knocking unconscious. There's no gore, but blood is sometimes mentioned briefly, and once or twice bone-crunching sounds are mentioned. A couple of bad guys are physically abusive to family members. There's a horrifying public execution, and the murder of a 3-year-old by poisoning is an important plot point. Very little sexy stuff -- just a couple of kisses and some romantic thoughts and feelings of attraction. Strong language is very rare but includes the French word for "t-t" ("tette"), "damn," and "whores." Adults drink "weed wine," but the teen main characters don't like it. A couple of minor characters have alcoholic tendencies. Themes explored include seeking the truth, becoming aware of the bigger world around you, and shifting your focus from yourself to the effect you have on your world and those around you.

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What's the story?

In the distant future, three teens live under the planet Laterre's perpetual clouds so that the only sky they know is a SKY WITHOUT STARS. Growing up on the starving streets of the downtrodden workers, Chatine just wants off the forsaken planet and steals anything she can get her hands on so she can buy a ticket and get out of there. But does she want out badly enought to betray those she cares about? Marcellus is the grandson of the ruling ministry's highest officer and expected to take his grandfather's place one day. But the more he's exposed to the harsh realities of the regime he'll one day control, he starts to wonder if he'll be able to do his duty when an all-out rebellion comes. Alouette wants to become a full member of the secret sisterhood that preserves and protects ancient knowledge from the First World, but the more she learns about everything else, the less she can stand her father's secretiveness. Her determination to learn the truth sets a chain of events in motion that could have drastic consequences for everyone.

Is it any good?

At just under a whopping 600 pages, this science-fiction epic manages to stay compelling throughout thanks to the three different narrators offering differnt viewpoints of events and one another. Readers familiar with Victor Hugo's Les Miséerables, or the movie musical based on it, will recognize a lot of events and characters in Sky Without Stars. The unique, far-future world is fully realized to offer Hugo fans an interesting comparison while being strong enough on its own to satisfy sci-fi fans who may not know anything about the original.

Teens will relate to the characters as they explore social inequality, the search for the truth, learning to empathize, and turning their thoughts away from themselves and out toward their impact on others and on the world around them. The length, harsh realities, and mature themes make it best for strongly independent teen readers and up.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Sky Without Stars compares with Les Misérables. Have you seen the movie version or read the book? If you have, which characters and events do you recognize? If you haven't, would you like to now?

  • The sisterhood that Alouette lives with is determined to preserve as much knowledge of the past as it can. Why is that important? How do events from long ago affect our lives now?

  • What are some of your favorite sci-fi series? How does this one compare?

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