May 23, 2023

The Blighted Stars

By Megan O’Keefe
Review by
Megan E. O’Keefe’s The Blighted Stars has one of the most fascinating sci-fi premises of the year: People upload their consciousnesses into 3D-printed bodies.
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Space opera fans, rejoice! Megan E. O’Keefe’s The Blighted Stars delivers futuristic technology, a power-hungry ruling class, a bit of mystery, a sprinkle of the macabre and a compelling, complicated relationship between its two leads.

In the distant future, the Mercator family maintains a tight control over humanity’s life among the stars. The Mercators mine “cradle worlds,” planets that are lush and unspoiled, for resources, but the side effect is a fungal bloom that eventually kills the planet.

Idealistic, passionate Naira Sharp is a member of the Conservators, a resistance group that tries to save these cradle worlds through sabotage and guerrilla warfare. Tarquin Mercator is the heir to his family’s empire, but he’s a scientist at heart, and he wonders where the planet-killing fungus comes from. Their worlds collide when Naira poses as Tarquin’s bodyguard in order to infiltrate and destroy the Mercators from within. But when their ship crashes onto the newest cradle world, Naira and Tarquin are faced with the supposedly impossible: The planet has already been devoured by the fungus. Together with the other survivors of the crash, they must work together to survive and uncover the truth.

O’Keefe is a master world builder, and The Blighted Stars has one of the most fascinating sci-fi concepts of the year. In her universe, people can load their consciousnesses into new bodies. Get killed out in the far reaches of space? No problem, your neural map can be beamed back to civilization and placed into a new 3D-printed body right away. (Though sometimes neural maps don’t load properly, resulting in grotesque and zombielike monsters.) Before beginning her mission, Naira uploads her consciousness into a printed body of Tarquin’s bodyguard without anyone on the doomed ship knowing. O’Keefe finds multiple ways to have fun with this plot device, and the payoffs of Naira’s secret identity are well earned.

The Blighted Stars would be a terrific starting point for anyone interested in dipping a toe into the space opera subgenre. O’Keefe largely restricts herself to Naira’s and Tarquin’s points of view, which brings an immediacy and focus to the story that is echoed by the relative simplicity of the plot. The complex and engrossing relationship between Tarquin and Naira holds everything together; the fresh world building and interstellar intrigue wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying if not for the believable relationship at the book’s core.

If future entries in O’Keefe’s Devoured Worlds saga are as exciting as this book, sci-fi fans will be thanking their lucky stars for years to come.

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The Blighted Stars

The Blighted Stars

By Megan O’Keefe
ISBN 9780316290791

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