ARC Review – A Near Future Spy Thriller

Stars and Smoke by Marie Lu

Publication Date: March 28, 2023

Summary from NetGalley:

Meet Winter Young – International pop sensation, with a voice like velvet and looks that could kill. His star power has smashed records, selling out stadiums from LA to London. His rabid fans would move heaven and earth for even a glimpse of him – just imagine what they’d do to become his latest fling.

Meet Sydney Cossette – Part of an elite covert ops group, Sydney joined their ranks as their youngest spy with plans to become the best agent they’ve ever had. An ice queen with moves as dangerous as her comebacks, Sydney picks up languages just as quickly as she breaks hearts. She’s fiery, no-nonsense, and has zero time for romance – especially with a shameless flirt more used to serving sass than taking orders.

When a major crime boss gifts his daughter a private concert with Winter for her birthday, Sydney and Winter’s lives suddenly collide. Tasked with infiltrating the crime organization’s inner circle, Sydney is assigned as Winter’s bodyguard with Winter tapped to join her on the mission of a lifetime as a new spy recruit. Sydney may be the only person alive impervious to Winter’s charms, but as their mission brings them closer, she’s forced to admit that there’s more to Winter Young than just a handsome face . . .

Romance and danger abound in this “brilliant, breathtaking ride that will leave you clamoring for the sequel.” — Tahereh Mafi, #1 internationally bestselling author of Shatter Me.

ARC provided by Macmillan Children’s via NetGalley for an honest review.

Confession:

I really enjoyed this book, even though I had to suspend a lot of disbelief with much of the book. I had a few minor issues with the story, but overall it was a fast and fun read with great characters and a nice twisty plot that kept me on the edge of my seat.

I’m going to get the small issues that I didn’t like out of the way first. My biggest one was the age of the Winter and Sydney. This would have been far easier to believe if they were, say, in their mid to upper twentys. Even the most mature teens would have had trouble coping with the things these two got into. Also, there were some time inconsistencies that kind of bugged me, but the biggest one was that Winter only got one week of training before he got thrown into the spy business, but there were some references that it was a month, so again, time issues. But even with these issues I really enjoyed the book.

Both Sydney and Winter narrate this story. They are both wonderfully complex characters with fully developed back stories. They both had hard childhoods with lots of loss that they are still dealing with. Even though this is being called an enemies to lovers story, I would say that that isn’t really the case. They don’t particularly like each other when they first meet, she finds him obnoxious and he find her cold and unfeeling, but they soon warm up to each other and begin to respect each other as well. They end up working very well together and their feelings for each other begin to grow throughout the story.

There are some great secondary characters that I just adored and hope to see more of in future books. Claire, Winter’s manager and stand in mother figure, was great and I loved how much she really cared for Winter. Leo and Dameon, Winter’s best friends and backup dancers, were also a lot of fun and a great support for Winter. Sauda and Niall, Sydney’s fellow agents, were almost like her parents to her and I loved their banter with her and each other.

The plot was very well done, although a tad predictable. I loved the villains, Eli Morrison and Connor Doherty were well fleshed out and superbly evil. I felt sorry, sort of, for Penelope, Eli’s daughter, but she too had a role to play in the story that ended up being more than Winter and Sydney expected. Winter and Sydney find themselves in all sorts of difficult situations, especially in the second half of the story, and it becomes very James Bond like in dangers and how they get out of these situations. But that made it all the more fun.

This is a great story with solid characters that fans of Marie Lu will enjoy and love. I am very much looking forward to at least one more adventure with Winter and Sydney and I am hoping there will be many more after that.

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