BEWARE – SPOILERS AHEAD
The day you buy your first teen fiction book is a BIG DEAL and I remember mine perfectly. Standing in Waterstones, eleven years old with pocket money in hand and my mum behind me inspecting what I was going to pick. My choice? Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman. I then continued to read the subsequent three books in the series and loved them all. Much like Noughts and Crosses, Chasing the Stars is a dual narrative between Vee (Olivia) and Nathan. Two people who are from very different backgrounds. Noughts and Crosses is well known for its discussion on race which adds massively to the depth of the story, and Blackman does the same in Chasing the Stars however this time the big issue is class. In an interview with The Guardian Blackman said ‘I set it in 2164 … I thought about whether there would still be the same preoccupations with race. I would hope not. But I think there will definitely still be a class problem’, hence Blackman’s move towards class. Supposedly based on Shakespeare’s Othello, the story brings a modern day take on class, revenge, desire and manipulation.
There are many redeeming qualities within Chasing the Stars, particularly in the attitude towards class and overcoming prejudice. Vee and Aidan Sindall represent the privileged upper class, having their own ship and the freedom to travel the universe at their leisure. Nathan and his friends have ‘drone’ status. Often given to those who commit a crime or who the Government are no longer fond of, this reduces Nathan and his once privileged crew to labourers on a planet designed to make their lives uncomfortable and miserable through menial labour. As these two groups of people come head to head it sets the atmosphere on edge. Many of the arguments are relatable and hugely relevant to the class infrastructure of today and echoes the struggles of Iago, Cassio and Othello within Othello. Here we see the first hints of the influences of Shakespearean drama.
At this point we come to the most difficult part of the story to swallow. The love triangle. Or should I call it the love mess? While I can’t fault the books ability to be good light reading, as a story with any relationship depth it was faulty. Supposedly a romance, the relationship struck between Vee and Nathan seems to be grounded more in lust than anything else. While there is an attempt at some emotional and mental attachment it seems superficial and weak. Partly because the characters don’t give themselves any time to get to know each other and rush into a multitude of ridiculous situations, the first and foremost being their shot-gun wedding. Now, if you expected any twists while reading this book, this isn’t one you would originally expect. In fact, it threw me completely off guard and turned what would have been a normal trial of teenage love and the difficulties that comes with that, into something quite laughable. Being a lover of Othello I understood the premise to have Nathan and Vee married like Desdemona and Othello, but in practice it ruined any idea of ‘love’ that it was supposed to create. What I did appreciate about the love triangle however was the use of Vee’s necklace as a representation of Othello’s famous handkerchief. It achieved the same feelings of betrayal and heartbreak from Shakespeare’s original story, but lacked the gravity and sincerity that made Othello’s belief of Desdemona’s betrayal as devastating.
The next plot twist however did catch me by surprise, which pleased me greatly after reading almost an entire book on the failings of two silly teenagers in a dysfunctional marriage. During the action packed climax of the story Nathan and Vee are locked in a cell together with danger coming imminently towards them. This danger? Vee’s twin brother Aidan, who isn’t really her brother at all! Instead it is a perfect replica of her brother in the form of artificial intelligence because her brother died of Mazon illness. The Mazon’s are largely prejudiced against the humans after previous experiences where many of them died. The Mazon assumed that this was intentional, however, Vee knew that it was not. Aidan on a mission into the Mazon ships accidentally infected most of the population of Mazoners that wiped out almost their entire population. Aidan also became ill with a Mazon infection that spread throughout their ship, leaving Vee as the only survivor. Now. The fact that Vee created an artificial intelligence version of her brother makes sense in the time period and context. But what seems overly elaborate and not particularly relevant to the issues at hand or the main plot of the story is that Aidan almost caused complete and total genocide of an alien race. As a backstory Aidan getting ill so he and the entire crew die is interesting and motivating as an entity in itself. There was no need for that part of the story. It was an empty and useless addition at a point where most of the story had already been concluded.
The points previously discussed show the aspects of what I didn’t like in the story, but there were aspects I enjoyed too. It was a good book for light holiday reading. The plot wasn’t too thick and it made me laugh at several points. While it’s not something I would pick up if I wanted some in-depth romance with a linear plot it was enjoyable and I put it down having had a good reading experience. Overall, I’d probably recommend Noughts and Crosses over Chasing the Stars if you’re my age (21) and into Malorie Blackman’s work. However, if you’re a teenager with a taste for cheesy romance, this is right up your alley.
Star Rating: 2.5/5
Featured Image: Detail from the cover of Chasing the Stars.