“Scardust” by Suzanne van Rooyen

Guys, be proud of me. I’m actually posting a review EXACTLY ON the release day of a book. I think that’s probably a first. Okay, so it’s mostly coincidental, but even so…

Scardust was a NetGalley book that I requested primarily because its cover was gorgeous and the title intrigued me. It was classified under LGBT and SF/F, and it’s safe to describe it as a gay science fiction novel given that it literally revolves around gay astronauts who want to go to Mars.

scardust

Publication date: 8th Feb 2016 (today!)

Well, that’s a bit too simplistic. Raleigh wants to go to Mars, but he hasn’t got to that stage yet. He’s swotting up, hoping to join the programme. He has a history that involves trauma and juvie and all those kinds of things, so a life in space is a dream rather than a reality. But he promised his brother that he’d scatter his ashes on Mars, and he wants to keep that promise.

Then a mysterious man with no memory of what happened to him crashes to Earth…

The book combines various aspects of science-fiction, from interplanetary travel to artificial intelligence and virtual reality. Because of this, it’s an unpredictable tale as it’s never entirely clear what explanations or plot twists are on the table. Personally, I liked that, because normally I guess the plot twists and ruin them for myself, but on this occasion, I was kept on my toes. People who like their stories to fit more easily into one trope or subcategory may find these different factors less enjoyable, though.

On the whole, this book surprised me with how good it was. I don’t know why that surprised me. I guess it’s because a lot of the ARCs I’ve read, particularly in the LGBT category, are good stories but not told with much flair. This was well-written, though. It had a really strong sense of voice and identity, and while there are some gorgeous descriptions, they aren’t pretentious.

It isn’t one for my more delicate readers, though. Raleigh’s past is messed up and his present rapidly becomes so. He’s had a lot of bad stuff happen to him, and has had to deal with it in the only way he knows how, mainly by repressing it. I’ve seen a review that criticises the portrayal of sex work in this book and I can see why that would be a valid criticism, but in the circumstances it didn’t seem an unlikely or over-the-top representation of what someone as desperate and determined as Raleigh might do.

Plus there’s some violence towards the end, of the experimental / torture type, so yeah, it’s not one for the faint-hearted or my younger readers. I review a lot of YA, so I feel the need to emphasise any content warnings when I review other books — I want people to know what they’re getting into!

Then let’s talk about the relationship. It’s a gay one, as I’ve mentioned. GAY ASTRONAUTS. The world needs more of those. GAYS IN SPACE. (I once saw a tumblr post that described Torchwood that way, until someone pointed out that ‘Bisexuals in Cardiff’ was a more accurate though less dramatic or catchy title. This still amuses me.)

While some people might have felt it happened too quickly — it develops a lot in the space of a week — the circumstances do sort of explain this. I’m not a big fan of instalove or instalust, but I did appreciate the understanding that no matter how much you’re attracted to someone, it can still take time to overcome trust issues and boundaries before you get too close. The feelings were there, but the acting on them wasn’t (well, not all that much).

It’s really hard to review this book without giving away some pretty major plot points, because so much of it depends on particular factors. It’s a mystery that I, for one, didn’t entirely guess at. I had some ideas as to what might be happening, but none of them were all that accurate, so I was pleasantly surprised to have a plot twist that was genuinely a surprise.

As I’ve already said, that unpredictability comes from how it combines different elements of sci-fi, and while it’s a fairly well-known story type (discontented protag wants to leave home town for a greater future, with the added impetus of a promise or oath), it still felt fresh and original.

On the whole I’m giving it four stars, with the caveat that there is content which some of my readers might not be comfortable with — not one for you, perhaps. If you’re looking for a story about gay astronauts with a fair bit of drama and angst, though, you could do worse than to pick this up.

Rating: ****

Find ‘Scardust’ on Amazon UK

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