Braided together are the stories of a pair of teenage twins who ascend the throne of a Maya kingdom; a young American woman on a trip of self-discovery in Belize; and two dangerous charismatics vying for the leadership of a new religion and racing toward a confrontation that will determine the fate of the few humans left on Earth after massive climate change. In each era, a reincarnated trinity of souls navigates the entanglements of tradition and progress, sister and stranger, and love and hate--until all of their age-old questions about the nature of existence converge deep underground, where only in complete darkness can they truly see.
With her second novel, author Monica Byrne has pulled out all the stops ... When a book is this ambitious, either it is a thumping success or it falls on its face. Happily, The Actual Star is a stone-cold masterpiece. It is one of the most moving novels I have read and surely a contender for major awards ... It is a book that will resonate with me for a long time.
I find myself blown away by the epic sweep, emotional complexity, and intensely thoughtful socioeconomic structural building Byrne brings to her work ... one of the most intelligent SF novels I’ve come across in some time. The 31st-century sections are marked by Byrne’s clever linguistic mélange that reflects a truly multicultural society in all its complexity, and Byrne has a gift for distilling multifaceted subjects into single words and phrases ... Byrne’s worldbuilding for her future sociopolitical system of Laviaja is not laid out clumsily in long dull descriptions, but rather organically through the lived experiences of her characters; this gives the novel a very naturalistic and immersive feel for the reader. And Laviaja itself is a fascinating and elaborate social construction, in which the constantly on-the-move existence mandated of climate refugees for hundreds of years transforms into a global system of nomadic and virtually anarchist cooperative settlement contemptuous of permanent ownership and dedicated to the search for one’s passage to Xibalba. Byrne expertly delineates the nature of Laviaja, in the process showing her readers how humanity has evolved new frames of identification for itself—in gender, in sexual orientation, in its relationship to labor, in ethnic identity, in so many ways. Byrne is a beautifully transformative creator, who observes our current conditions and takes them to a logical future conclusion. She is a writer of great vision, from whom I imagine greater and greater things will come in the future.
Byrne follows up her excellent 2014 debut The Girl in the Road with a millenia-spanning triptych that marries past, present and future in a manner that’s not quite like anything you’ve read before.The Actual Star is a stunningly realized work of literary fiction. Byrne blends elements of speculative and historical fiction to create a trio of timelines, each a thousand years apart, the individual stories serving to illustrate a fundamental truth of narrative power. The stories we tell, that we pass on, can come to define us in the eyes of those who follow. Flexible and fluid, these tales grow and evolve until they are both of us and not of us ... The Actual Star is unlike anything I’ve read. This is a story about what stories can do, about the narratives of life and the way in which they can change through time. Was, is and will be – all are parts of the whole. It is about connections – those we can see and those we cannot – to the world around us. It is immersive and idiosyncratic and without a doubt one of the best books I’ve read in quite some time.