In a distant star system known as the Kindom, a group of noble families rule with an unbreakable grip. But a single secret, in the right person’s hands, can change everything. A multilayered saga full of courtly intrigue and indelible characters, Bethany Jacobs’ These Burning Stars warps readers across the galaxy on a devilishly fun thrill ride.
Jun Ironway has just nabbed the biggest score of her thieving career: a data drive containing explosive evidence that one of the ruling families was involved in planetary genocide. It could bring in quite the payday. Or, it could get her killed. Hunting her are two of the Kindom’s finest clerics, members of a religious order that serve as law enforcement. Esek, heir to the Nightfoot family fortune, leads enigmatically and punishes ruthlessly while her counterpart, Chono, is impassive, devout and efficient. Haunting the steps of this trio’s deadly dance is a wanderer known only as Six, who seems to have a stake in the data drive as well. But who is Six and whose side are they on? And can Jun find a way to expose the truth before Esek and Chono catch her?
These Burning Stars is plotted like a chess match, confident and surprising as Jacobs moves each piece thoughtfully across her board. There’s a sense of delicate control as the pace and tension ebb and flow, and the characters approach and retreat from each other. Enriching flashbacks fill in relevant information, but only when the narrative calls for it. Jacobs has an applause-worthy restraint, holding her cards until they can be played for maximum effect.
All four main characters are extremely fun to follow, and this reviewer will be thinking about them long after filing this piece. Esek in particular stands out: a brilliant, haughty, rule-bending and gregarious sociopath who is as unpredictable as she is determined. Her scenes feel electric, like anything could happen, with Chono, her shadow and opposite, playing foil time and time again.
I’m happy to report that These Burning Stars opens a trilogy set in the Kindom. If Jacobs’ second entry is anything like the first, we’ll have so much more to discover across her universe in the years to come.