Young Adult - Sci-Fi
252 Pages
Reviewed on 11/06/2017
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Becky Walker for Readers' Favorite

In a brilliant start to this new science fiction series, Mary Fan’s writing is fluid and poetic. Starswept centres on the fate of fifteen-year-old Iris Lei, a talented violist who has lived under the protection of the Papilio performing arts school since birth. Earth, 2157, is a dismal place. In this dystopian society, poverty abounds. One of the few ways to escape a life of misery is for a talented artist to impress the rich and powerful from the far-off planet of Adryil. This advanced, telepathic alien race prizes those that perform to the highest standards and the aim of every student at Papilio is to ‘rise in the rankings’ and attract an Adryil patron before they ‘age out.’ Students and their families are in debt to the school, so even if they are lucky enough to find patronage, it will mean a lifetime of service in order to repay the vast sums involved. Despite this, it is every pupil’s dream, for at least they will have an opportunity to live a better life – on Adryil – and, if they succeed, possibly help their loved ones in the future.

Iris’s only true friend in this fiercely competitive environment is Milo, a ballerina who is gradually losing faith with the system. When Iris has a chance encounter with Dámiul, an Adryil youth being chased by the authorities, her life takes a dramatic turn. Via telepathic communications, he warns her that there is more at stake than her musical career. As their relationship starts to blossom, Iris begins to uncover the shocking truth that questions everything she has taken for granted.

The author, Mary Fan, has a lovely flowing style, elevated with enchanting descriptive passages of music and art that contrast so well with the dark portraits of an unfair and unbalanced society. Iris’s character, at the start of the book innocent and somewhat naïve, evolves with the story to become a more analytical and feisty protagonist. Her relationship with both Milo and Dámiul are central to this growth and development, the romantic elements agreeably intertwining with the brooding political backdrop. Some of my favorite sections were those relating to Iris’s inner thoughts as she plays ‘Butterfly’s Lament’, the piece she chooses to play at the school spectacle, drawing a parallel to her growing feelings for Dámiul and her fear that a match between an Earthling and an alien could prove futile. However, this is much more than a romantic read. There are probing questions about the misuse of power, ethics and inequality. I thoroughly recommend Starswept to young and new adults - who will identify with Iris’s coming of age – and also to older readers who are looking for a unique and compelling read. Bring on the next book in the series!

Charity Tober

Starswept by Mary Fan is an intriguing YA space opera adventure. The story follows a 15-year-old violist named Iris Lei and her journey from a poor nobody to an accomplished musician, catching the attention of the mysterious Adryil--an advanced alien race of telepathic humanoids. The Adryil have so much more than the humans of Earth; the thing they value the most is our performing arts. Iris attends Papilio, a prestigious school run by Adryil technology in the hopes that she can gain an alien patron and change her life. Things get complicated, though, as she navigates the fierce competition at the school, meets an Adryil boy and finds romance, and discovers there might be some very dark secrets lurking in the shadows of her future with the alien race.

I thought Starswept had a very unique premise. I've read literally hundreds of YA books over the years and can't remember ever reading one that revolved around music like this one did. I think it added a good twist to the premise. Iris was a really likable protagonist. She was not without flaws but she was very grounded and worked hard to better herself and her life. The romance between Iris and Damiul (the Adryil boy) was sweet and didn't overshadow the main plot line. I think the author also did a good job answering some questions about the alien race, but leaving a lot mysterious to keep readers wanting to learn more. I would recommend this book to fans of YA science fiction, space opera and adventure genres.

Francine Zane

In Starswept by Mary Fan, the world is in an alliance with an alien race that finds the only thing of value on Earth is its arts. To that end, children spend their childhood working to hone their art with the dream of acquiring an Adryil patron. Iris is one such girl. She dreams that her skills with the viola will make all of her dreams come true. When she runs into an Adryil boy on campus, she is shocked and thrilled, but when she finds out that she can communicate with him telepathically, it is beyond surreal. Little does she know that the dreams sold to her by the adults have a gritty underside.

Starswept by Mary Fan is a sweet, young adult science fiction story with all the romantic elements of a beloved fable. Iris is a pure soul thrown into unwieldy circumstances. She struggles to succeed the only way she knows how. While on the surface her music is her greatest attribute, in truth it is her heart. She is a loyal and true friend who is willing to sacrifice for the people she loves.

While I would have appreciated a little better balance between backstory, dialogue, and action, I have a true appreciation of Fan's ability to weave an enthralling story that pulls the reader in like good music—subtly and with all the finesse of a professional. Iris has all the insecurities and challenges of any 15-year-old, but the way she handles them is truly admirable. She is an excellent role model for today's youth.

Emily-Jane Hills Orford

“They brought us the future and, in exchange, we brought them true beauty.” But at what price? At the price of freedom? The Adryil, the people from the far-away planet of Adrye, make contact with Earth. Adrye is an Earth-like planet and the Adryil people are humans, only they are far more advanced than the humans on Earth. While Adrye has advanced technology, Earth has the arts: music, dance, all that is beautiful in life. A fair trade allows Earth to benefit from Adrye’s technology, but what does this fair trade give in return? Caught in the middle are the artists: Iris, an exceptionally talented violist, and her best friend, Milo, a dancer, both students at the acclaimed Papilio School for the Arts. All seems normal at school. They work hard in their chosen field of performance and they aspire for greatness, for the honor of being sponsored by a patron from Adrye. But, when Iris connects with a young boy from Adrye, Dámiul, she learns a far different truth from the one she was always led to believe. And, as she learns to protect herself from the powerful forces that threaten to take away from her all that she believes is important, she starts to fall in love.

“I wonder what it must be like to live in a place where success and failure doesn’t revolve around the arts.” For Papilio’s students, success and failure are what spur them on. In Mary Fan’s YA science fiction novel, Starswept, the clashing worlds of technology and the arts come to a very surprising climax. The author has written a stunning novel that pits the two forces against each other, neither one being the good nor the evil force. Both powers are swept into their beliefs through greed and a strong desire to dominate all that they can. The idea of creating a plot pitting the arts against technology is brilliant. The story flows at a rapid pace, but not too fast to miss the subtle nuances of the beauty found in the arts. An exceptional story. Well done!

Cheryl E. Rodriguez

Mary Fan writes an exceptional science fiction romance in Starswept. Iris Lei is a promising violinist. However, she is one among many students at the Papilio School of the Arts in North Carolina. Even though she barely remembers her parents, Iris lives in the shadow of her renowned mother. Her mother is out there somewhere, living and performing on Adrye. Hopefully, one day Iris will be selected by an Adryil patron and be reunited with her mother. This is her dream. But Iris’s dream is challenged when she encounters a mysterious young man from Adrye. Being involved with him is dangerous, but she can’t let go of his image. If she gets caught, she could be expelled and lose everything. But, Damiul speaks to her mind; he reveals truths she would have never imagined. His presence is in her heart and mind, but will she ever feel his touch? Music is her refuge, her only safe place. With a “starswept” view before her, and a lamenting melody in her heart, Iris dares to dream.

Starswept by Mary Fan is a beautiful, romantic piece of prose. But, it is more than a story of young, star crossed lovers, much, much more. The alien use of telepathy and brainwashing creates a mind boggling plot. The ongoing conflict between the heart and the mind propel the action. Is it a fairytale or is it a conspiracy? Is it about the gift of the arts or is it about the craft of manipulation? Is it rebellion or liberation? The answer - all of the above. Mary Fan is a notable science fiction author, her experience and love of music shine throughout the novel. One of the unusual, yet interesting twists depicted in the narrative is the veneration of the arts. In today’s world, the arts are the first thing eliminated to cut budget costs, yet in this story the arts are the vitality of society. Fan’s descriptions are masterful! Her characters are brilliantly artistic, daring, and courageous, battling against a villainous, sadistic and enslaving world of mind control. Starswept makes you want to believe in storybook dreams and fairy tales, even in futuristic alien worlds.