With its slickly burnt, 1970’s-esque cover that recalls Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, it’s fitting then that Drew Williams’ debut novel The Stars Now Unclaimed, gambles with apocalyptic ideas gleefully. The scope of the novel is indeed gargantuan. An all-encompassing phenomena dubbed the ‘pulse’ renders mass amounts of planets and civilisations dead. Its intent was to do the exact opposite, and now mercenary Kamali, a member of the Justified, is repairing the damage by gathering a collection of enhanced individuals who she hopes can right the wrongs of the past. This is a novel with its eyes on the galactic prize.
For all of its epic scale, The Stars Now Unclaimed is in no rush to dispense its scale right away. Split into four distinct acts, the first quarter of the book unloads a galloping collection of action sequences that flow steadily in and out of each other as Kamali descends upon a broken planet to collect her latest prodigy, sulky teenager Esa. After unexpectedly joining forces with the cyborg Preacher, this inharmonious threesome embark on a mission to change the fate of the galaxy. Weirdly, it’s not the fate of the galaxy that’s the best thing about this; it’s its violent, uncouth characters. Kamali, Esa and Preacher are the very picture of dysfunction; a gun-toting mercenary willing to pull the most destructive plans out of the box to get the job done, a sulky teenager possessing telekinetic powers thrust into a volatile warzone, and a snarky robotic Evangelical-esque creation.
The explosive sense of adventure in the book may overtake its gawping universe at times, but it’s also the perfect complement to this rough trio of players. The clashing of personalities and actions these characters undertake routinely throws the story into wild, unexpected directions that keeps the reader on their toes
Williams’ narrative underserves this attitude at times, however. Written from the perspective of Kamali, Williams paints Kamali as a character with the weight of the galaxy on her shoulders. Of course, she plays that role to perfection via her actions and her overall purpose in the story, but her flippant attitude undercuts some world-building gravitas The Stars Now Unclaimed rapidly becomes concerned with building. On occasion, this style of language delivers some subtle emotional punches that aren’t in any danger of being overcooked.
Although this may add up to an execution as unsteady as Kamali’s AI-enhanced ship that races across the stars dodging attacked from the ruthless Pax, this is a fiercely entertaining romp through the cosmos. A trio of loveably tough female leads and a wide-eyed sense of adventure makes it a feverish page-turner.
THE STARS NOW UNCLAIMED / AUTHOR: DREW WILLIAMS / PUBLISHER: SIMON & SCHUSTER / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW