Initial reaction: This is the first time I’ve actually been utterly and completely stumped on how to reflect on a book, so I think I’ll just give it a night to sink in. Maybe it’ll make sense in the morning? (Somehow I doubt it. This book was weird.)
“Tin Star” is only my second read from author Cecil Castellucci, and for what it’s worth – I liked the first read I had from her in “Boy Proof.” It was very quick to read and the author has a way of streamlining her prose so that her stories are quick and easy to go through. The protagonist was identifiable and the overarching narrative did well for the subject provided. That said…I’m not sure if such a method worked for “Tin Star.” This narrative had a great premise and motive for revenge, but I honestly could not get into this book at all. Probably if I’d had an uninterrupted reading session, I could’ve read this in an hour with how easy it was to move through, but the overarching story left much to be desired and failed to engage me.
Tula is a young woman who was abandoned for very little reason by her leader and group on an alien planet around the age of 14-15. Her leader, Brother Blue, beats her so badly that she’s gravely injured, and simply leaves her as the only human on this respective alien planet. The insinuation is that he saw her as a threat because she could communicate with a universal language, but considering how much summarization is noted in the narrative, it kind of overshoots making a more invested point on the matter.
In any case, Tula’s left with little choice but to stay on the alien planet, mingle with the citizens, and find a way to live. I did like the brief immersion of the environment of the aliens and there are a few characters that I actually really liked among the alien race that Tula interacts with. But for the life of me, even during this time, I could never find a point of connection with Tula. She seemed passive and resigned and it was difficult to feel invested in her motivations. Sure, she could say that she wanted to kill Brother Blue because he nearly killed her and left her on the planet, as well as led a colony that resulted in her losing her family – but it was all tell, not really showing those details. It was very difficult to feel for her character. Notably, I felt more invested in the alien beings (Heckleck, etc.) who were acting as side characters than Tula herself. One of the more interesting characters was killed off early in the narrative and that gutted me because of the potential that character had as well as how he carried the story/conflict better than the central character did (and if you have a hard time connecting with the person that’s supposed to be the MC, that’s a *huge* problem.)
Fast forward quite a few years later, and another group of humans find themselves stranded in the same area. Tula can’t find it within herself to trust such a group since humans were part of the measure that burned her before, but at the same time she ends up falling romantically for one of the stragglers who are on the planet (Reza). Alongside meeting Ela and Caleb, there’s a bit of a convoluted story here that further confused me as to motivations. It’s supposed to be a part of Brother Blue’s corruption and conning. It’s summarized to a fine point, but there’s no connectivity to the characters or the overarching conflict at all. I saw what the author was doing in places (which include a fake murder plot and some jarring scenes of murder in cold blood), but there’s no investment, depth or suspense to them at all. I couldn’t feel for the characters, and the transitions were often baffling and awkward. I’m not sure what happened with the execution of this.
Even the scenes between Reza and Tula are really threadbare and awkward aside from their initial meeting. It’s like watching a movie with the fast-forward button pressed down the whole time. You’re watching the scenes, you know something exciting’s going on, but there’s no time to process or actually feel/reflect/engage with the events as they transpire.
I wish I could say I enjoyed this book, but the way it was written and presented did no favors for it. I’m not sure if I’ll pick up the next book at this point, but I hope there’s more connectivity to the characters and scenario than this one provided. It had a huge amount of intrigue to its setup, but it almost completely dropped the ball for delivery.
Overall score: 1.5/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher MacMillan/Roaring Book Press.