CassaStar by Alex J Cavanaugh

My first review is a novel by fellow blogger and debut novelist Alex J Cavanaugh. His novel CassaStar is science-fiction, not one of my favourite genres, but I like to support fellow bloggers so I determined to read CassaStar. I'm glad I did.

First, here is the blurb:

To pilot the fleet’s finest ship…
Few options remain for Byron, a talented young man with a troubled past and rebellious attitude. Slated to train as a Cosbolt pilot, Byron is determined to prove his worth and begin a new life. Much to his chagrin, Bassa, the toughest instructor in the fleet, takes notice of the young pilot. As war brews on the edge of space, Byron requires a navigator of exceptional quality to survive. Bassa must make a decision that could well decide the fate of both men. Will their skills be enough as they embark on a mission that may stretch their abilities to the limit?

Here is an excerpt from a review by the Library Journal:

“…calls to mind the youthful focus of Robert Heinlein’s early military sf, as well as the excitement of space opera epitomized by the many Star Wars novels. Fast-paced military action and a youthful protagonist make this a good choice for both young adult and adult fans of space wars.” - Library Journal

CassaStar is a story about friendship set in a science fiction world. I must admit I didn't get into it straight away as I had to become familiar with a world completely alien to me.

Before I read CassaStar, my exposure to science fiction was The Matrix movies, which I loved, and the Star Wars and Star Trek television series. CassaStar is 'hardcore' sci-fi yet is described by the author as 'low tech.'

The world building is sparse, giving the reader a sense of the setting without an inundation of details. Once I got my head around 'multiple direction disrupter shots, Cosbolts, Cassans, Vindicarn, teleporters and telepods and Guaard' I could see where I was, what this world looked like.

The characterization is excellent. Even though the main character, Byron, is painted in arrogant and proud brushstrokes, I cared what happened to him, and found myself holding my breath as he mastered the rigorous training and launched into battle. Byron is an immensely talented young man. He dreams of becoming a Cosbolt pilot on Guaard, mainly to escape Cassa and be somebody. His parents are dead and he'd been raised by his older sister. He doesn't trust anyone and keeps his mental shields up at all times. This is problematic when he even shields his thoughts from his navigator, Tindel.

CassaStar is a beautiful love story but it is not your typical romantic love story, rather it's a deep friendship between the arrogant Byron and his friend Bassa, an experienced instructor with a tragic past. For a character who tries to keep his mind shuttered, Byron comes to experience a deep friendship with Bassa. The change in Byron is shown when Byron is 'stunned and humbled' by Bassa's friendship...'Byron dropped all inhibitions regarding their connection. He wished he knew how to reciprocate the sentiment and convey the depth of Bassa's impact on his life. And at that moment, with his mind open, he realized that Bassa already knew.' (pp.177-178.)

There are many exciting moments in the story with space battles against an alien race, laser hits and explosions, (which are screaming out for film rights) but the core of CassaStar is the intense progression of Byron and Bassa's friendship and how they change and grow throughout the story.

I felt the language was more formal than it needed to be; simpler words would have had greater impact. This may just be because I'm a great fan of the clipped, spare prose of the Michael Connellys and Jeffrey Deavers of this world.

Alex's use of the telepathic abilities of Cassans in multiple points of view was an integral part of the story and I found this easy to follow.

Overall, CassaStar was a wonderful read that I would recommend to anyone interested in character-driven science fiction. CassaStar sucked me in to the world of Guaard where the sun never shines. I'll be looking forward to reading the sequel...which brings me to this...

CassaStar has been likened to Star Wars, but it's Star Wars without Darth Vader and Princess Leia. There's no real villain and no female characters at all except an appearance by Byron's sister. I was left wondering - aren't there any Cassan women? what do these Cassan women do? are there any on Guaard? I hope in the sequel there are some strong female characters and at least one villain to act as a foil to Byron's elegant aloofness.

CassaStar is suitable to both YA and adult readers. It is a great debut novel and I will be using it with my Year 10/11 students.

Well done Alex J. Cavanaugh, science fiction writer and blogger.

L'Aussie's Verdict: 7.5/10



N. R. Williams said...

Wow, nice review. Sometimes sci-fi can be difficult to wrap your mind around with aliens and alien worlds. I'm glad that Alex did a good job of it.
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

L'Aussie said...

Nancy: I just hope I did it justice not being a great fan.

Denise :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You did it justice!!!
nancy tipped me off to this review - I had no idea you were reading my book. Wow, thanks for stepping out of your comfort reading zone. (And it really is low tech - I can recommend some science fiction writers who will make your head hurt!)
Not to fear, the sequel does have a female main character. And I explain why you didn't see women in this one...
Thanks again - what a surprise!

L'Aussie said...

Alex: Thanks for your response. I was a bit worried but I am honest about my reaction to your book and that is what reviewing is all about. I'm so glad you have a female MC next time. I so wanted Byron to have someone! I'm so looking forward to the explanation.

Denise :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Oh Denise, I'm going to give him someone all right!! Again, very honored by your review and that you'll use it for your students. Just - wow!

L'Aussie said...

Alex I know my boys will love it! If I have any questions I'll know where to go, ha ha...:)

Dawn Embers said...

Great review and wow. I was going to comment right away but fell asleep and now there are many comments already. That is awesome.

The book sounds interesting. I've had some issues understanding sci-fi but it sounds like a book I could really get into. I love a character focused story so will put it on my very long to-read list.

Arlee Bird said...

Your review was pretty close to way I felt about CassaStar. You are the second person that I seen say that the language was too formal. I didn't see it that way. All in all this was a fair and comprehensive review. Good job!

Tossing It Out and the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge 2011

L'Aussie said...

Dawn: Thank you. I think you'd enjoy it.

Arlee: I'm glad you saw it as fair and comprehensive. I think we have to be honest or we lose any credibility as a reviewer. The language is a personal issue - which I said.

Looking forward to A - Z April.


Margo Benson said...

I'm so interested to read this review as I have just read CassaStar myself. It's out of my genre too ( I did have a strong sci-fi phase as a teenager!) and I think it's great that you're introducing it to young students.

Re the women aspect - I was reminded of Orlando Bloom in LOTR saying that when the couple of female cast members arrived on set they were all on their best behaviour as it was a 'boy's movie'. I haven't read many novels that don't feature women and was curious that there were no female staff/pilots etc. The story isn't grounded in any particular era so the reader doesn't know of any gender significance but I'm really happy to hear of a sequel where some female qualities might come into play.

L'Aussie said...

Margo: I was so happy when Alex said he'd introduce a female MC as it would be more balanced (IMHO).


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Hey Dawn! Believe me, it's not high tech and I kept the names simple. Nothing trips me up more than long, hard-to-pronounce names.

Margo, I've discovered that more non-science fiction readers have enjoyed it than vice versa. And I will explain the lack of women in this book in the second. And give you a female lead!

L'Aussie said...

Alex: Just left a comment on your site telling you about having to teach Sci-fi to my boys in Yr 10 this term. Woo hoo!

Now about short stories. I'm using a book of science fiction short stories for my boys too. You could definitely get into that.


Anonymous said...

An excellent review, Denise!

I try to support bloggers, too, by buying and reading their books. I'm halfway through this one and really enjoying it. Can't wait to finish. I'm in the middle where Byron is still struggling with his relationship with Bassa. Your review isn't a spoiler for me but rather the impetus to finish the book! There is some science fiction I like, the kind where character development is central. This is one I think both YA boys AND girls will enjoy.
Ann Best, Author

L'Aussie said...

Ann it is great you're reading CassaStar too. I think Byron and Bassa are characterised so well. One of our rules for our reviews is that there are to be no spoilers so I'm glad it had a good effect. Thanks for following!


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Ann and Denise, your words are music to my ears!

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