The Star Host by F. T. Lukens (March 3, 2016); 258 pages. Available from Interlude Press/Duet Books here.
In this world (Earth and the world in the book), there are people whose bodies are home to a kind of power that can either be harnessed and used consciously, or can overpower the host and crumble him to its own use.
The Star Host by F. T. Lukens is the story of one such person, Ren, whose body holds a small piece of a star, which gives him immense power to commune with—control or be controlled by—machines. He’s taken prisoner by a power-hungry ruler and isolated in a cell. In the cell next to him, however, is Asher, a former Phoenix Corps military man who becomes his confidante, friend, and eventually, his love.
The novel tells the story of Ren’s capture, his attempts to harness and hide the power he has, and his witness of cruel and sometimes deadly treatment of his friends. The novel also tells the story of how Ren and Ash become close, how they come to depend upon and support one another, and how—finally—they plan an escape from the dungeon in which they’re held.
I’m not doing it much justice here: it’s absolutely riveting. With a plot strung tight with anticipation and sharp writing in which two very different, very distinct and real characters come to seem real, The Star Host held me so tightly I couldn’t put it down until I’d finished it entirely, in nearly one gulp.
That sentence, though, the first one I wrote, keeps calling me back. It resonates on more than one frequency here. Though love between two men, in this novel, in the world it describes, seems neither out of the ordinary, nor strange, nor dangerous, nor remarkable in any way (unlike in our own world), and the fact of this is unremarkable to the story’s narration itself. Visiting in this world feels like such an immense relief, for being gay doesn’t seem to matter at all.
What matters, instead, is whether or not one can be used by—or poses a threat to—the government. People hang their lives by this. Children grow up poised to fight or flee. And for those like Ren, who grow up knowing that something burns inside them, makes them different, makes them understand the world differently, makes them hunted, must be hidden, and will affect every inch of their lives, being a “star host” matters.
Get what I’m saying? This book, I mean, is about being gay in more ways than one: yep, the protagonists are gay. But also the “star host” phenomenon rings many of the same bells.
The result is a novel that imagines a world in which being gay isn’t a Big Thing, and in which there is a different Big Thing that drives the plot and makes the novel taut, interesting, compelling. Being a “star host” in this world still strikes metaphorical notes for someone who wants to read it that way—one isn’t required to do so to love this novel—one could read the “star host” quality in the context of sexuality, but also as a metaphor for ethnic identity in America, intelligence, gender, teenhood, and a whole other number of Things That Make You Different. So, to beat this “note” metaphor within an inch of its reasonable life, you could say the novel resonates, without being dictatorial, with a second voice for anyone interested to listen.