Reeling from the latest attack by a mysterious enemy, the Quatra Fleet Academy is finally admitting students from every planet in the solar system after centuries of exclusivity.
Hotshot pilot Vesper, an ambitious Tridian citizen, dreams of becoming a captain – but when she loses her spot to a brilliant, wisecracking boy from the wrong side of the asteroid belt, it makes her question everything she thought she knew. Growing up on the toxic planet Deva, Cormak will take any chance he can get to escape his dead-end life and join the Academy – even if he has to steal someone’s identity to do it. Arran was always considered an outsider on icy Chetire, always dreaming of something more than a life working in the mines. Now an incoming cadet, Arran is looking for a place to belong – he just never thought that place would be in the arms of a Tridian boy. And Orelia is hiding a dark secret – she’s infiltrated the Academy to complete a mission, one that threatens the security of everyone there. But if anyone finds out who she really is, it’ll be her life on the line.
These cadets will have to put their differences aside and become a team to defend their world from a cunning enemy – but the danger might be lurking closer to home than they think…
Warnings: themes of war, anti-immigrant sentiments, substance abuse, bullying
Light Years is a boarding school setting in space novel, with a futuristic society living in a four-planetary system. When the Quatra Fleet Academy starts taking students in from outside Tri, for the first time since its inception, it does so to promote diversity in its student body, something that has political ramifications in and out of the Academy. Cormak and Arran come from the poorer Settler planets (essentially, the ones colonized after the capital Tri) and are out to prove themselves to the world, and to show, like many of the other Settler kids, that they are as good as the elitist Tridians. Orelia is a spy come to infiltrate the Academy, and Vesper is the daughter of the commanding officer of the Academy and has the burden of proving herself as a serious candidate and not just there because of nepotism.
The major part of the novel is about their first term in the ultra-competitive Academy, where weekly rankings of squads keep them on their toes. With the addition of Settler kids, the rivalries are intensified, along with the subtle anti-immigrant sentiment going around that shadows most interactions between the elite kids and the poor ones. The four main characters alternate in chapters, and we get to see their personal struggles as they face threats from alien forces, prejudices within and without, challenges, and doubts. Cormak has an additional secret because he is impersonating this dead brother and he does some shady stuff to hide it. Vesper is a neurotic mess, partly from bullying, and partly from having to live up to her mother’s expectations; she also has to contend with the lure of substance abuse. Orelia has the classic spy’s dilemma – she is getting close to the people she is targeting and questioning whether what she is doing is right. Arran questions the reality of his relationship with Dash, who is the son of a prominent bigoted noble.
The book does the school arc very well, and the writing and characterization is light years (ha!) ahead of her debut, The 100 (which I reread recently so it made for a good comparison!) and has a more layered plot. But it also lacks much action, expect maybe a couple of key scenes of simulated conflict, and one battle with an alien spaceship. As of this novel, there are still a lot of things not brought forward, like the nature of Tridian society (which seems monolithic at this point, with a couple of outliers), and why there are no signs of a resistant movement, and also the other big Sylvan presence. The stakes are lower than what I expected, and most of it was easygoing. It does have a hell of a cliffhanger after a nicely resolved climax, so it has that going for it, to get us excited for the next novel.
Is it diverse? There is a good set of diverse characters, including some queer ones (Arran and Dash, as well as one secondary character), characters of color (implied, and from the cover), and a character with prosthetics.
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Hodder & Stoughton, via Netgalley.