Book Review: The Second Star by Alma Alexander

Travel amongst the stars is a highly talked of topic in these times. That our future may lie “out there” somewhere is a source of great hope and great terror. I love reading stories that explore this knife’s edge dichotomy, and The Second Star by Alma Alexander is one of the best examples of the consequences—and miracles—of star travel that I have seen.

1. Thoughts on the plot

This book follows Dr. Stella Froud, who is called in to help in the matter of the recently recovered crew of the Parada, a ship that went to the stars with near-FTL technology nearly two-hundred years ago. Barely aged thanks to the technology, the crew of six may have come back, but their personalities are fractured in pieces. Stella, with the help of Jesuit Father Philip Carter, must determine whether the crew’s fracture precludes all future star travel, and whether the crew can ever return to the society that remembers them as heros.

This story is a deeply psychological book. It explores depths of the mind that most people don’t even know existed, and it does so beautifully, without bogging the reader down with unnecessary jargon. It is also a deeply exciting book, with terse interpersonal politics, search and rescue situations, and questioning authority in a startling way. I cannot say much more than that except that the plot, and the twist at the end, were captivating and stunning and un-put-downable.

2. Thoughts on the characters

Psychological explorations—and explorations of space, for that matter—in books can go one of two ways, I find. One: the depth of mind (or space) is explored in such a way that is extremely profound, but done in such a way that the characters feel flat and unrelatable. Two: there is no way not to relate to the characters because they are human made manifest in words. This book was definitely the latter. Stella, as the main character, displayed a proportionately large emotional range, with a depth that was almost like talking with an actual person. The other characters, from Father Philip to the crew of the Parada, however, had the exact same depth, even if we weren’t reading the story from their perspective. I have only seen such characterisation but rarely and every time it takes my breath away.

3. Favourite part

I could wax on about the plot twist (sans spoilers, of course) or the characterisation, or the prose, or any of it, but really, I have to say, my favourite bit was the cat. Never forgotten. Details like that make a book.

4. Critique

Frankly, I haven’t got a critique for this book because it was just so good.

Overall, The Second Star is one of my favourite books of the year. Perhaps of all time. It scours the depths of the human mind at the same time that it opens up new horizons amongst the stars, leaving us standing in the wake of profundity and starstuff. An excellent read.