Book Review

A Wilderness Of Stars

A Wilderness of Stars

  • Author: Shea Ernshaw
  • Genre: YA Fantasy
  • Publication Date: November 29, 2022
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

CONTENT WARNING: death of a parent, grief, violence, blood, murder

In this magical romance from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Long Live the Pumpkin Queen, an illness cursing the land forces a teen girl astronomer to venture across the wilderness in search of the stars’ message that will, hopefully, save them all.

If magic lives anywhere, it’s in the stars…

Vega has lived in the valley her whole life—forbidden by her mother to leave the safety of its borders because of the unknown threats waiting for her in the wilds beyond. But after her mother dies, and Vega sees the fabled twin stars in the sky, it’s an omen she can no longer ignore, forcing her to leave the protective boundaries of the valley. But the outside world turns out to be much more terrifying than Vega could have imagined. People are gravely sick—they lose their eyesight and their hearing, just before they lose their lives.

What Vega keeps to herself is that she is the Last Astronomer—a title carried from generation to generation—and she is the only one who carries the knowledge of the stars. Knowledge that could hold the key to the cure. And so when locals spot the tattoo on Vega’s neck in the shape of a constellation—the mark of an astronomer—chaos erupts as the threats her mother warned her about become all too real.

Fearing for her life, Vega is rescued by a girl named Cricket who leads her to Noah, a boy marked by his own mysterious tattoos. On the run from the men who are hunting her, Vega, Cricket, and Noah set out across the plains in search of the cure the stars speak of. But as the lines between friend and protector begin to blur, Vega must decide whether to safeguard the sacred knowledge of the astronomer. Or if she will risk everything to try to save them all.

I’ve read a couple of books by Shea Ernshaw, so I had a few expectations in place when I started this book. I was prepared to love this book, and while it was slow moving at first, I trusted the author fully, and she definitely didn’t let me down. 

I wasn’t expecting it to be set in a dystopian form of the Wild West, but I just rolled with it. Vega is an astronomer, taught secrets by her mother, who is dying of a disease just referred to as consumption. However, it’s different from what we know as consumption. Her mother has taught her everything that she’ll need to know, but when her mother dies, she still doesn’t really feel prepared to venture out of her secluded valley to find the elusive Architect, now that she’s the last Astronomer. And her status makes her vulnerable, as does the tattoo on her neck. People think that she’ll be the cure for the disease ravaging the people, so they’re hunting for her just as she’s searching for the Astronomer with very little to go on.

Vega has to trust her instincts, and place her faith in people she doesn’t know. When she crosses paths with an intriguing girl who saves her from a dangerous situation, she has no choice but to trust her. And this girl, Cricket, leads her to an even more intriguing boy—Noah. Noah is covered in tattoos as well, and the three of them head out across dangerous territory to fulfill Vega’s destiny.

I loved watching Vega struggle between the caution that was taught to her all her life, and the trust that she needs to place in others in order to accomplish her task. Things aren’t easy, and she has to make tough decisions, and often second-guesses herself. But I enjoyed knowing that she ended up trusting herself to do the right thing, often choosing with her heart instead of her head. It showed that she had a strong moral compass, and even though she spent a lot of time being terrified, she stood up for what she thought was right. She was a tough as nails heroine, although there were times when she was forced to rely on others as well. 

Noah was another intriguing character, who went through major changes throughout the story. His backstory was fascinating, although I don’t want to give too much away. However, he was also willing to take the difficult path and do what he felt was right, even when it wasn’t what he was expected to do. However, the other characters in the story aren’t explored in depth, and I would have liked to get to know them better. I do have to say that the antagonist in the story is done amazingly well.

While Ernshaw eases us into the story and gives the reader time to get to know the setting and main character, the action and pace ratchets up quickly. There are twists and turns, and I couldn’t stop reading. This was the kind of book that I couldn’t wait to get back to when I was doing other things. Towards the end of the book, there was a fantastic twist that I absolutely didn’t expect. While the overall tone isn’t a happy one, the ending was incredible. It left it open for a follow-up, which I hope is coming, but even if not, it allows us to come to our own conclusions about the ending. Overall, this was a fantastic story that was beautifully written, with vivid descriptions, a gripping plot, and so much action I could never predict which way it would go.

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 8

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