Review of Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki book cover and catalog link

Shizuka Satomi, revered and feared violin instructor, is known as the Queen of Hell in the classical music world. As it turns out, the name is more apt than most people know – Shizuka made a deal with the devil to deliver seven talented, tortured souls to hell. So far, she has sent six souls to the fire, and while seeking her seventh, meets Katrina Nguyen. Katrina is a young runaway trans girl who is seeking safety and peace to play violin and be herself, and to Shizuka, is the perfect seventh soul to complete her deal. To further complicate things, Shizuka begins to fall for Lan Tran, the local donut lady who is actually an interstellar starship captain in hiding from the Galactic Empire. Lyrical and moving, Ryka Aoki’s new novel Light from Uncommon Stars surprises and delights at every turn.

This sort of mash-up should clash like discordant notes played off-key, but instead it sings like the most harmonious melody. The novel somehow combines science fiction aliens and a fantastical deal with the devil into a larger, cohesive whole, and this is only by the skill of the author. Aoki’s novel is queer, light, and witty, but with a darker edge that does not shy away from the lived experience of many trans people, with lyrical and dreamlike prose that employs extensive musical allegory. The author examines questions of identity, purpose, existence, and the ineffable beauty of music: how one person can competently play a piece of music without that spark that makes music special, and another can play like a beginner but infuse their feelings and message into the song, lighting the world on fire. For a defiantly joyful, queer meditation on family and identity, try Light from Uncommon Stars, coming out on September 28, 2021.

Thanks to NetGalley for the advanced reader copy!

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