Series: The Star Realms Saga, #1
Author: Anne Wheeler
Genre: Sci-fi Romance
Ryllis Camden has a secret – she can talk to nature, and it speaks to her in return. But her gift is forbidden by the Vilarian Star Realm who controls her planet, and the penalty is death. When she’s falsely accused of treason and exiled to the Vilarian home world, hiding her power becomes even more critical. But how can she hide anything when she’s forced to toil in the home of the emperor’s youngest son?
Kresten Westermark might be a prince, but long ago he shunned a life of luxury to work as a telepath in the Vilarian Imperial Flee. His job demands he treat his new prisoner as a slave and test his deteriorating telepathic powers on her, but the only thing on his mind is the growing attraction he feels toward the earnest young woman tending his gardens.
As the mountain winter fades, a reluctant respect between the two becomes trust, and trust soon blossoms into affection. But when the Fleet arrives to arrest Kresten for treason, Ryllis must make an impossible decision.
Save Kresten’s life – or hers.
Rating: Heart-touching, thought-provoking, and unforgettable. (Yes, this is my new take on ratings; get used to it or find another reviewer!)
The First Review (hopefully no spoilers here):
I don’t usually read sci-fi or romance stories. I have a fair amount of distaste for a lot of sci-fi elements, and romance stories – some of them are good, but some of them are boring, and some of them have elements I find hateful, too. So, when I picked up The Stars Wait Not after reading a lot of posts and tweets by the author, I had high expectations: why waste my time on a genre I don’t usually like unless I have a reason to suspect I might love it? I was not disappointed.
Right from the beginning, when we met Ryllis held in a prison cell still on her home planet, Cereth, she is a unique character with a lot of personality and attraction. Her gift is nourishing and communicating with nature: she is a fighter, determined never to give in, never to confess to crimes she did not commit, never to be daunted or submissive. Yet she is deeply afraid of what might be coming for her.
Kresten Westermark is one of her guards. He’s rather anonymous at first, but he treats her with some respect and regularly offers her kindnesses. This could just be standard procedure for softening a prisoner, but in his case, it is already growing into something more. Ryllis attracts him powerfully, even though he does not understand it. He admires her stubbornness and spirit.
Both of them are relateable people whom the events of the story helped me to understand and relate to better. Kresten’s complicated feelings and thoughts as he works through his background and all the assumptions he has made and been taught as Vilarian royalty, versus the atrocities that some of the Vilarian laws are, and how he’s attracted to Ryllis, and how he treats her and comes to care for her, are so realistic. They breathe personality all over them. And, side by side, there’s Ryllis’s slow, grudging at first, realization that Vilarians, and even the Vilarian royalty, aren’t the pure monsters that she’s imagined, but people, with real lives, real joys and heart-break. How she realizes no one she knew on Cereth would believe what she now knows about them. How she starts to feel human affection. How she treats Kresten differently when she learns he’s a prince, and how he wants to see her spirit, to see her stubbornness, not to see her cowed. And there’s all the ways they approach each other and fight each other, make the wrong move, then realize they were inconsiderate, or misunderstood, or become afraid. It’s not a crazy romantic drama. Sometimes, it’s hardly even a romance (though don’t me lead anyone astray; that element is not lacking!). But first and foremost, it’s human, the struggles and issues of a human relationship across those gaps of privilege and position and prejudice, whether it’s a romantic relationship or not.
And then there’s just the little everyday details of life: like a snowball fight. And the conflicted, contradictory emotions that are such a part of human experience.
And Kresten’s servant, Lina, and her family.
The Real Review (Spoilers? What are those?):
I really, really loved The Stars Wait Not. But the crowning parts come near the end. A lot of times blurbs that end with “So-and-so has to choose between so-and-so’s life and so-and-so’s life” put me off. I don’t care for the trope, and I’ve seen it done badly. Sometimes, the choice feels like it’s invalidated by the “solution” the author concocts to make it so no one dies. At least that’s how I feel.
Neither Kresten Westermark nor Ryllis Camden die in The Stars Wait Not, and I loved it. Not one choice is made to feel unreal. Not one emotion is wasted. It all throbs with meaning, and the resolution, the happy ending, makes it all matter more, instead of less.
Both Kresten and Ryllis are so willing to offer themselves up for each other. When Kresten is falsely accused and taken away, that’s when Ryllis realizes that her growing feelings for him are more than she realized. She’s not content to run away and try to make her way back to Cereth, while he suffers. Yet her terror at her choice to give herself up for his freedom is so real, so human, so heart-rending.
“Suddenly, with her future staring her right in the face, handing herself over to torture and execution – even to save Kresten – didn’t seem as appealing.”
Yet, she’s so stalwart it’s heart-breaking.
“Only the thought of Kresten suffering in this place kept her moving forward. Not even the shock sticks they nudged her with when she slowed frightened her from her goal.”
Kresten’s thoughts and realizations, and the way how he feels about Ryllis grows, when he’s taken are so true and so real I can’t get over them.
“If this was meant to be humiliation by Dahl’s order, it had failed – by living even the briefest and most ephemeral of her experiences, he’d become more determined to protect her.”
“What did it matter now? They could degrade him as much as they wanted, as long as they were doing it to him and not her.”
And then there’s how even knowing Ryllis and loving her has not made him think about a lot of what he and his society has always taken for granted, but his reaction to facing them makes him think. It’s so human and heart-touching.
“It wasn’t something anyone in the Fleet had a problem with until it was under their skin He hadn’t thought anything of it before now, just like he hadn’t thought anything of most of his life.”
“He would never do it to anyone, ever again. The idea was so freeing it was almost impossible to comprehend.”
And then there’s possibly the two more heart-touching lines in the novel, one from Ryllis and one from Kresten, though I doubt they’re anything like they are in the book out of context like this, which is true of all these lines!
“But if you feel like you need to repay me, then stay with me until the end. And then you can let me go.”
“He’d have done it for her – had done it for her – but it wasn’t supposed to have to happened like this. She was supposed to be free, trying to make her way back to Cereth, and he should be in that cell, suffering, yes, but with the knowledge that she was safe.”
He might be stupid! If they both love each other, how can that be freedom and happiness for either of them? But it’s so humanly true and real! It carries so much of his feeling and thought! And he did not know she loved him earlier. He thought she just tolerated him and loved Cereth. It’s going to be hard to process what she’s just told him when he’s been tortured half to death and he’s understandably out of it, and he’s shaken and tormented by her situation and what he sees happening to her. And what he fears.
There’s so much more. This is just a tiny glimpse.