The Stars Down Under by Sandra McDonald

This is the second book in the trilogy (I think it’s a trilogy) by Sandra McDonald. Book 1, The Outback Stars I reviewed over here: LJ | wordpress . It’s got multicultural characters, military fiction, and indigenous Australian mythology all mixed up with space opera. I was pretty blown away by the first book – a lovely science fiction romance where the romance was slow moving, which is my type of thing. As soon as I saw that book 2 was in paperback in the store I bought it.

Also: I LOVE LOVE LOVE these covers. So pretty and convey that it is science fiction, and the portal in the pictures must represent an ouroboros. The artwork is by Donato Giancola.

*** There may be mild spoilers for book 1 from this point ***

The Premise: It’s soon after the events of The Outback Stars and our hero and heroine Jodenny Scott and Terry Myell are settling into their new jobs. Terry had decided to not volunteer for chef’s initiation, which means he’s getting flack for that at work. The both of them decided not to get involved with the Wondjina Transport System, but they’ve recently been approached by people asking for their help – the system stopped working and a team of six who were using it are now missing.

My Thoughts: The writing is much the same as the last book, which means I had no problems with the pacing and could read quickly for stretches of 100 pages at a time without feeling like it was a chore. What is different though is that Terry and Jodenny are apart for a lot of this book. They each have their own separate story arcs, which I didn’t really like because I love them together, but it did keep me reading, wanting their stories to intersect again. Unfortunately we don’t get to see them very happy because of forces beyond their control.

There’s also more focus on the Wondjina Transport System and Terry’s strange mystic connection with it. This was there in the first book as well, but this time the theme is expanded. At times the book got really out there, especially in the second half of the book.  I couldn’t tell if I was reading some out of body experience or something that was really happening.

There’s hints about the ending of this book right in the prologue. It made my heart drop and so the closer to the end of the book I got, the slower I read. I was just afraid to get there. In my mind what we have is a cliffhanger. I’m hoping things turn out okay for Jodenny and Terry in the conclusion of this series, and I kind of think they will, but in the meantime I’m thankful I read this book when book three is also out. I also have a warning: DO NOT read the blurb for book three because it pretty much spoils this book!!! You can read it AFTER reading this book, but don’t do it before.

Overall: Still loving this series, but this one goes some places I didn’t really like, so I really have to read book three, The Stars Blue Yonder now.

Buy: Amazon | B&N


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.