Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray
Summary from Goodreads:
She’s a soldier.
Noemi Vidal is seventeen years old and sworn to protect her planet, Genesis. She’s willing to risk anything—including her own life. To their enemies on Earth, she’s a rebel.
He’s a machine.
Abandoned in space for years, utterly alone, Abel has advanced programming that’s begun to evolve. He wants only to protect his creator, and to be free. To the people of Genesis, he’s an abomination.
Noemi and Abel are enemies in an interstellar war, forced by chance to work together as they embark on a daring journey through the stars. Their efforts would end the fighting for good, but they’re not without sacrifice. The stakes are even higher than either of them first realized, and the more time they spend together, the more they’re forced to question everything they’d been taught was true.
This is certainly science fiction at it’s best. On the surface it seems like a typical scify romance or something along the star wars theme, but it is so much more. There is a lot of depth to this story in particular along the lines of what it means to be human. It did remind me of some of the old science fiction stories I read growing up, especially the ones that explored some of the same themes around robots and artificial intelligence.
The story is told through the two main characters, Abel and Noemi. For most of the book they are stuck on the spaceship just by themselves. So the character development is just supreme, especially Abel’s. Noemi also goes through a lot of change in her thinking, not just about Abel himself, but her core beliefs about her planet and their war with Earth. They do meet others along their journey, most are helpful and some not so much. It was fun to see the reactions to Abel, especially when they find out that he is a mech. The whole mech idea is very well done in this book. They have some human qualities, such as skin and blood and nerves, but they are programmed and only know what they need to for their jobs. There is quite the contrast between Abel and the other mechs when they interact.
I also really enjoyed the worlds that they visited. They were all so diverse and interesting. What made them different from other science fiction planets, is how the they were used by earth. They were not just extensions of earth for colonization purposes, but had distinct reasons for their existence. For example, one world was just for vacations for the wealthy and another was just for the scientists. I don’t think I’ve come across this kind of earth expansion before. The wormholes they travel through were also well done, and a nice use of current scientific principles of space travel.
This was an extremely well done novel, with great characters, interesting settings and a plot that kept your interest. Although you expect there to be a lot of romance in the book, there really isn’t. Abel and Noemi develop a close friendship and have a lot of mutual respect for each other, and perhaps they are falling in love by the end. Abel certainly thinks so. But there is still more to this story than that.