Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan

Doubleday | 2017 (26 January) | 320p | Review copy | Buy the book

Hold Back the Stars by Katie KhanCarys and Max are adrift in space, tethered to one another, and with only ninety minutes of air left. In the short time left to them they try their best to return to their spaceship but ultimately the two of them are all that is left and in these minutes they turn to each other and remember their past and how they dared to do that one thing they shouldn’t – they fell in love.

Living in the near future, Carys and Max are citizens of Europia, a European Utopia bound by rules to further the freedom of the individual. People move every three years to a different region in which they build new friendships, contribute to society in different ways and experience new places and cultures. They are the lucky ones. America and the Middle East have been destroyed by nuclear war and the entire planet is now enclosed within an asteroid belt that has put the stars out of reach. But all is not perfect in Utopia. Marriage is forbidden to the young. It belongs instead to those in their thirties who have matured enough to understand their responsibilities to society and know their place within it. But Carys and Max, both in their twenties, cannot live apart.

Hold Back the Stars is a beautifully elegant yet unsentimental novel about illicit love in a society that in so many ways has so much going for it. In a way, this is a novel about perspective. People are so busy living life they miss the bigger picture. Max and Carys can see it all when they drift through space, the planet far below them, its boundaries lost. But theirs is no rose-petalled romance. And Katie Khan does a wonderful job of making it real, flaws and all, all set within this brilliantly realised future world.

I’m not a reader of romance but I am a huge fan of science fiction and I loved the premise of Hold Back the Stars. It is the story of a love affair but this is much more a novel about two individuals than about a couple. And it is such a fascinating one. Scattered throughout are the moments adrift in space, the minutes of air counting down, and the beautiful horror of their situation stretching out around them into the blackness. It is the definition of compelling. And the story doesn’t quite go where you might expect.

Hold Back the Stars would definitely appeal to teenage readers but it didn’t feel to me like a Young Adult novel especially. Max and Carys are in their twenties. It is society that demands them to act as if they are younger. I really enjoyed the mix of freedom and control, utopia and dystopia, peace and war. But most of all, I loved Carys and Max – and Osric.

This is a book full of surprises, with far more to it than you might think at first when you read the premise. I wasn’t expecting the type of story it became but I loved the direction it took. It’s not a long novel and it’s a fast read, very difficult to put down and utterly bewitching. Hold Back the Stars is Katie Khan’s debut novel but I would never have guessed. I love the way it combined worlds and confounded my expectations while giving me such glorious characters to enjoy. Whatever will be next?!

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