The Outback Stars by Sandra McDonald

I’ve been keeping this book in mind ever since I was recommended it by calico_reaction based on my love of space opera romances. I think she made the comment on one of my Linnea Sinclair reviews that I should read this book. Finally I broke down and got it, but only the hardcover copy was available when I did. Now, I love the book, but I want it in soft-cover, so I’m going to buy it *again* in paperback, and I want to give away the copy I read to someone who will enjoy it. I’m the type of person who uses bookmarks and gentle handles the book while reading, so the book is practically new, comes with the dust jacket, and it’s a really great read. If you don’t care that this book isn’t completely new, I’ll be hosting that giveaway in a few days.

First of all – isn’t this a great cover? It’s pretty cool and unearthly – conveys outer space, a female main character, and the colors are fantastic. I believe the second book in the series (The Stars Down Under) has a similar look.

Lieutenant Jodenny Scott is an officer whose last ship, the Yangtze suffered massive fatalities when it blew apart. Scott was one of the few survivors, a hero who helped save many crewmembers on that ship. At the start of this novel, Jodenny is bored from being forced to spend months planetside recovering from the disaster, so she pulls some strings to board the Aral Sea as it’s newest crewmember. Unfortunately she is put in charge of Underway Stores, the most troubled department in the ship – rumored to be full of incompetents, criminals and misfits. Past supply officers in charge of Underway Stores are either missing or had mysterious accidents, and Jodenny has to confront suspicious activities going on with her division and elsewhere in the ship.  All of this is set against a backdrop of a military with Australian origins, and odd mystical things that seem rooted in Australian folklore also happen.

Overall: I think if you are a fan of Elizabeth Moon you will like Sandra McDonald’s books, particularly because of the military aspects. If you like Linnea Sinclair and Ann Aguirre you may like this as well. The author was an officer in the U.S. Navy and her knowledge of the day to day workings of he military seems to really show in this novel. In The Outback Stars Jodenny has to deal with a mix of personalities both below and above her in the chain of command. Not everyone is a hard worker and trying to get the bad seeds working in harmony with everyone else is a challenge. However, it was refreshing to see Jodenny tackle the challenge with creativity and toughness, which didn’t always help her make friends, but did make me respect her. She’s a very competent character who knows her job and is good at it. I also liked seeing how she reserved judgement on people until she saw things for herself – particularly with Terry, an accused rapist. It was also interesting to read a book where the main culture was Australian, not American (even though the writer is American!), but there was a also a big mix of races and religions and ethnicities on the ship too. The romance itself was satisfying to read – it wasn’t the main focus, and is slow-building. The tension comes from the fact that Jodenny is interested in a subordinate, which is a no-no within the milirary, so she spends most of the book supressing her feelings. I sighed a happy sigh at the end of this book.  Although it seems like it will continue in The Stars Down Under, this book ended in a good place, without cliffhangers. I didn’t feel like major strings were left undone, but there is enough undiscovered territory to keep me wanting to read book 2.

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4 thoughts on “The Outback Stars by Sandra McDonald

  1. I’ve read this one, but some time back.

    The Australian-ness of this book intrigued me, as it sort of distinguishes it from the other space opera/mil SF books out there. I recall liking the mil SF aspect of it, but was not quite convinced by the romance actually. I think, unlike you, I thought it was too much love-at-first-sight as opposed to slow-building! It has been a while though, so I may be wrong on that.

    Li

    • It’s been a while for me too now.. I seem to recall that they wouldn’t admit how they felt for a while though. I’m still working on this series. I think I loved the first book, particularly the mil SF part of it, and the second book was more mystic and less like the first than I expected. I have book 3 in the TBR.

  2. Janicu, I read this book last year and also loved the military SF details. They were excellent. The romance for some reason seemed secondary to me, and the fantasy worldbuilding took me a bit by surprise, but it was well done. I enjoyed the characters and McDonald’s writing.

    I still have the second book in my TBR and hope to get to it this year.

    • I felt the same way about the first book. I’d like to see how you feel about the second book.. I think I was a little disappointed because it was very different from the first. Much less focus on the military SF which is the part I loved.

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