Last Star Burning by Caitlin Sangster (review)
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Sangster, Caitlin Last Star Burning. Simon Pulse, 2017 [400p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-4814-8613-2 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-4814-8615-6 $10.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 8-12

Eight years ago, Sev’s mother betrayed her fortified city by bringing the plague that ravaged the world a century ago inside its walls, thus condemning her daughter to a lifetime of illness, hard labor, and “reeducation.” Now, at sixteen, all Sev wants is to prove that she’s not like her mother and deserves a place inside the city walls—even the slums of the Third Quarter are better than the wilds Outside. No matter how she tries, Sev is marked as a traitor, as much by the distinctive birthmark on her face that matches her mother’s as the brand burned into her hand. When she’s accused of setting the bomb that nearly killed her and her friend Tai-ge, the son of the prominent military family assigned to reeducate Sev, she flees the city with the help of Howl, the Chairman’s son-turned-rebel. They make their way to a rebel outpost, and along the way Sev is confronted with truths—and lies—that unravel everything she thought she knew about her mother, her world, and herself. There’s satisfying romantic tension in Sev’s relationships with Tai-ge and Howl, but both remain secondary; the focus here is on Sev’s attempt to understand her place and [End Page 131] take control of her future when she’s a pawn in dizzying machinations of those in power. Sev maintains an appealing resilience and humor despite her difficult life: she chooses to trust others despite having suffered betrayal, cracks jokes in the direst of circumstances, and acts altruistically despite being treated like garbage for much of her life. Sangster draws on her knowledge of Chinese history and culture (she discusses her influences in an author’s note at the end) to build a richly imagined dystopia that brings new life to familiar tropes. An unexpected swerve in the final act will leave readers breathlessly waiting for the next volume.

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