Book Review: Yume Kitasei Explores Space In A Heist-Driven Action Adventure Novel

This cover image released by Flatiron shows "The Stardust Grail" by Yume Kitasei. (Flatiron via AP)
This cover image released by Flatiron shows "The Stardust Grail" by Yume Kitasei. (Flatiron via AP)
View All (2)

Grad student Maya Hoshimoto is having a hard time settling down on Earth after a thrilling career as an art thief, stealing looted objects and returning them to their people. So when her best friend Auncle — an octopus-like being from another solar system — offers one last job, of course she says yes. But we all know it’s never simply one last job.

“The Stardust Grail” is Yume Kitasei’s second novel, another thrilling space adventure featuring strong women and diverse characters. As in her first novel, “The Deep Sky,” Kitasei uses sci-fi to recontextualize issues that have been banging around your brain with no easy answers — like what determines personhood and whether artificial intelligence can obtain it, or when cultural adaptation becomes appropriation or oppression.

Maya believes she can find the Stardust Grail, which could be the secret to allowing Auncle to reproduce and preserve the Frenro species. She had sworn her days of stealing and repatriating artifacts were over, but this mission is special; the Grail shows up in her dreams.

Because of the Infection — an extraterrestrial pandemic that, if survived, gives some humans the Frenro ability to dream across space time and experience possible futures — Maya knows exactly what she’s looking for. But Earth’s military force is racing after the same prize, and between Maya’s small, unfamiliar crew and the lack of information about the Grail’s whereabouts, it will be a miracle if she actually obtains it. Or survives, for that matter, as past enemies with valid grudges keep cropping up along the way.

The plot laid out at the start seems predictable enough, but that’s only the half of it — literally, we see it play out by the halfway mark. Then, in true Kitasei fashion, the game changes and things get really interesting.

For me, the story truly kicked in and hit home in the final quarter. Everything before it was fine — more action and heist than adventure — but Part 4 is when we start really digging into some planet exploration, history and lore, and weird bioscience fun. And the end, while a bit abrupt, was satisfying and earned.

Also, Jonathan Bush knocked it out of the park again with the cover design for “The Stardust Grail.” Both Kitasei’s novels have beautiful covers with meaningful designs that grow along with your knowledge of the story, adding an extra layer of enjoyment.


AP book reviews: