I was intrigued by Hold Back the Stars when it was first published earlier this year, and I was delighted when Hannah Bright unexpectedly sent me a copy ahead of the paperback release in November.
Carys and Max have become separated from their space shuttle and, drifting through space, have only 90 minutes of oxygen left. If they can’t get back to their shuttle, they will die. Through this fast-paced novel, we see how they met, how they ended up in this situation, and we discover the fate of these two young lovers.
Hold Back the Stars is a crossover between science fiction and romance. I’m not much of a romance reader, but part of the beauty of this novel is that you could be a fan of either of these genres, or neither, and I still think that you would find something to enjoy in this brilliantly written and inventive debut.
The science fiction aspect element comes in the world building, as well as being partly set in space, and I loved the slightly futuristic, utopian world in which Khan has set the novel. Set a few years in the future, most countries have been united into a single state called Europia. People are encouraged to “rotate” every two years or so – to move on to a different part of the world, to meet new people, and to experience new things. Long term relationships are discouraged until people reach a certain age (mid-thirties, I think), encouraging personal development, productivity, and contribution to society and industry prior to forming a lasting relationship and starting a family. I thought that the world was cleverly developed, and it gives a more optimistic outlook than many novels that are set slightly into our future. It’s not perfect, and it has come at a cost, but it is a great deal more positive than many novels that look ahead.
If sci fi isn’t your thing, however, don’t worry – the world building is done subtly, adding context to the narrative without being the focus of it, and the core of the novel is Carys, Max, their relationship, and how they ended up drifting through space with a limited supply of oxygen. This part of the novel may require the suspension of disbelief. We have two young people in space with 90 minutes to live and no obvious way back to the safety of their space shuttle. Rather than focusing solely on this, they choose to discuss their relationship and how they got into this situation. I didn’t have an issue with this element of the story at all, but I have seen some reviews indicating some disbelief over the circumstances, so, if you don’t think you can look past this, you may want to give this novel a miss.
If you are willing and able to look past this, you’re in for a treat! I absolutely loved this novel – more than I expected to – and I was thoroughly caught up in Carys and Max’s story, despite my opinion that Max is a bit of dick. Each chapter counts down the minutes of oxygen that they have left, and whilst they do look back over the high and lows of their relationship, they are also trying to get back to their shuttle, Laertes. The tension is palpable, even with the flashbacks to how they met, and how they got to where they are, and I was desperate to discover their fate. Which is where Khan throws in something of a surprise – I won’t spoil the novel for anyone, but the ending was completely unexpected. I may have experienced a slight leaky eye problem, which doesn’t happen often.
For me, this novel is the love child of One Day and The Martian, although that may be doing it something of a disservice because, as much as I loved these two novels, Hold Back the Stars is unique. It’s a brilliant debut, and I hope that we don’t have to wait too long for a second novel from Katie Khan.
Hold Back the Stars was released in paperback on 30 November. Many thanks to Hannah Bright and the publisher, Black Swan, for my copy.
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐