Two worlds, each one ruled by the stars. In the first, the stars in the heavens guide the course of two men in a murder mystery that, should they solve it, will change the very world. In the second, the stars of screen and stage put on the masks and manners of other people, ruled by a script and a director. Two worlds, two men, two lives, and two chances at love. Will Doctor Hammond find a new faith in the arms of the azod Timon? Will Sean manage to convince Alastair that the flames growing between them aren’t just stage light and special effects?
Hammond is a man who has lived his life according to astrology. The stars of his birth told him, and the world, that he was a genius, destined for great things. No matter his efforts in school, his grades were always the best and now he’s a prominant researcher on the verge of a breakthrough that will change everything, especially for the azods — men and women born with no chart, men and women who can’t get jobs, or houses, or even a ride in a taxi. When a colleague is murdered, Timon, an azod, is there to help. Unfortunately, finding out who killed Professor Wright will be the easy part.
Sean is an actor playing the part of Doctor Hammond on a new TV pilot oposite one of his celebrity crushes, Alastair Chesterton. For all that Sean’s happy with the role, small things begin to get to him. Sean had thought he was the main character of the show, but it turns out Alastair, playing Timon, is not just the star, but the fan favorite. When Alastair is signed for season two and Sean isn’t, jealousy begins to rear its ugly head. Will Sean be able to put aside the self-doubt and hurt feelings long enough to realise that he’s not the only one feeling the chemistry between them?
This is … an odd book. It’s really two books being written at the same time, letting us read half of Hammond and Timon’s story, and half of Sean and Alastair’s. It’s an interesting idea, but it doesn’t quite work for me. I found myself far more interested in Timon and Hammond than I was in Sean and Alastair. The world — let’s call it World 1 (since it starts in chapter one) is creative, with intricate world building and strange new words and concepts thrown at you with no explanation, but just enough context that you can pretend you know what they’re saying. World 2 is the real world, and because it’s familiar, it’s never fleshed out or given any personality. It’s like the whole world, in Sean’s reality, is little more than a stage where everything is just props and a coat of paint.
Setting that aside, the plots are a snarl. Because I was only given half of either story, I never felt like I could quite catch up. Events and relationships took place in the blank space between chapters and it made it hard for me to connect to the characters. I don’t want to spoil either of the plots, or some of the clever ideas in this book, so I’ll jump right to the characters.
We start with Hammond (who, as far as I can tell, doesn’t have a first name. It’s always Doctor Hammond or just Hammond.) He’s a young man with grand ideas, a good heart, and the creeping sensation that he doesn’t quite belong. That maybe he’s not as brilliant as his astrology chart assures him he is. He’s naive, with his mind on his research without pondering the ramifications of his work. He stays static throughout the story; we never see him grow or change or even develop beyond his trope of good-hearted scientist.
Timon is an azod, which means he had no chart drawn up at his birth to chart the course of his life. He’s not able to get a hotel room, or a phone, or even shop in certain stores because astrology rules everything, and being ‘starless,’ he’s an outcast and a danger (I love this concept and really wish the whole book had taken place in this world.) Timon could be interesting, with what little we see of him, but, like Hammond, he’s criminally underdeveloped. He works with the police on crimes and has some safety and money because of that, but, like every azod, he’s an untouchable.
When the two of them strike up a relationship, it feels forced, like they’re two dolls being smashed together. This is, in large part, due to the fact that while they exist in their world, they are also characters in a TV show in World 2, meant to be fleshed out by the actors that play them. Even so, as are real people in their own world, with thoughts, feelings, and actions, their relationship feels almost obligatory. It feels like because the writer of the TV show (and the author of the book) thought they should be together, they are, even if the majority of the time they spend together is either seen through Sean and Alastair’s acting, or in time skips between chapters.
Sean, in the ‘real’ world, is a ball of insecurity. He had a moment in the spotlight five years ago and both resents that people remember it, and resents when they don’t. He doesn’t want fans, he wants a second chance at greatness. With this new show, he thought he had a chance again, only to be overshadowed by Alastair. He belittles him, jibes at him, and stares at Alastair like he’s some untouchable bit of perfection on a pedestal for Sean to oggle and dream about, while he calls the man himself a snob.
Alastair is a man who wants to be known for his acting. It’s a job and he both likes it and is good at it, but he also wants his privacy. He knows he’s gay, and even as Sean is doing his version of ‘flirting,’ Alastair is doing his best to put a distance between them. Their characters, Hammon and Timon, are supposed to slowly ease into a gay relationship — a shocking developement on TV for two main characters to both be openly gay — and Alastair doesn’t want this to bleed over into his personal life. He doesn’t want to lose Sean as a friend or risk the show. Even so, the two men begin to feel an attraction for one another … or so we’re told.
The problem, when a relationship grows or dies offscreen, is that when we get to see the characters again, we have to believe it. And, I don’t. Based on Sean’s own words, actions, and feelings, I do believe he has a thing for Alastair — or rather, the Alastair of his dreams. But Sean is insulting, petty, with crude and obvious not-quite-flirting and passive-agressive comments that neither charm me nor endear me to him. Alastair remains lukewarm through much of this, as well he might, considering the hot and cold of Sean’s professed feelings. When Alastair finally starts to — or tries to — come out to him, Sean is quick to break the tension and the mood, to make certain they don’t kiss or embrace and remain only friends in such a way that is cold blooded and calculating. Overall, I was unimpressed with Sean as a person.
Their relationship, as it deepens over the season, is a dichotomy of the author telling us that they are growing closer, and my reading Sean’s words and actions and feeling very much as if there is an unpleasantness and a distance still between them. At least with Hammon and Timon, I believe there could be a chance at a relationship, even if it’s not something I get to read about. The way they act together, and the bits and pieces given out by the writers of the show, hint as more depth and intimacy than their chapters give us.
The book wants us to accept that the world isn’t black or white. It’s not the firm, undeniability of fate versus chaos, it’s not male versus female, it’s not even love versus indifference. Sometimes it’s both, sometimes it’s neither, but, unfortunately, the ideas fall short and the interesting ideas are lost in between the bland characters and the indifferent relationships. The writing, the world, and the creativity alone are enough for me to recomend this book, but not enough to give it a fourth star. I will be keeping an eye on this author in the hopes that a slightly less muddled plot might give them a chance for stronger characters.