Long ago, mankind damaged the environment of the Earth well beyond its capacity to support human life. With no other alternatives, humans began tunneling into the crust to wait a time when the air was clean enough to breathe. The only exception are the scientists, the elites of society who use their mental prowess to keep their meagre civilization going. Garrett was born into his position, but lacking any aptitude for science, he only maintains his exclusive lifestyle thanks to a generous allowance from his disapproving father. While he may be unable to contribute to the science that sustains the underground labyrinthine society, Garrett can throw a wild party—one with plenty of whores to go around.
Jessiah and his friends know Garrett’s reputation for wild, sex-filled parties. They want to leverage this information to gain access to elite scientists’ databases—all because of a book Jessiah found in the archives. Despite being hundreds of years old, the book not only describes exactly what life is like living in the dank caves, it was written by the very man Jessiah used to have feelings for. In other words, the book is proof to Jessiah that the scientists possess the means not only to maintain their elite status, but to travel through time itself. All Jessiah has to do is gain Garrett’s trust in order to use the man for his access and connections to the scientists. He may lose his self-respect by pretending to be a whore to attract Garrett’s attention, but the more he learns about the man, the more Jessiah worries he’ll also lose his heart.
While the relationship between Jessiah and Garrett is the main focus of To Change the Stars, there is a broad supporting cast and a broad depiction of thriller-like espionage. I’ll admit, I was attracted to the idea of an underground civilization and a ruling class of elites that are artificially maintaining the misery for their own comfort. The catalyst for action against the status quo is the book Jessiah finds, written by his friends who mysteriously disappeared. The main antagonists are elite ruling scientists with a penchant for sex parties. Our protagonists are three people who fulfil a Chosen One trope who come across as acting entirely altruistically, but their on-page actions never seemed to corroborate any deep-felt desire to help the masses.
For all that the story is set in this supposedly dystopian future, I didn’t feel that the descriptions of the world or the actions/reactions of the characters conveyed this. All I gleaned is that human activity destroyed the environment, turning the atmosphere to poison. It seems clear enough that there are social castes, but apart from naming these different social levels, I didn’t get a strong sense of animosity between them. More to the point, Jessiah and his friends are apparently on a crusade to save their “people” but at no point do they ever interact with any other like minded rebels. None of the language or narration helped reinforce any “us versus them” themes, either.
Rather than focusing on any world building, this story highlights the relationship that develops between Garrett and Jessiah. There are elements of instalove early on, but it was the way their dynamic changes from “whore and john” to “two men on a date” that culminates in a connection that really hit that theme home. I felt more in-tune with Garrett’s situation; even if it’s not explicitly stated on-page, it was easy enough to have sympathy for a man who KNOWS he hasn’t, isn’t, and won’t cut it as an elite scientist. His father knows it, his colleagues know it. Garrett is practically useless and only has a job in any laboratory because of the strings his father pulls. It wasn’t hard to imagine he’d form an attachment to the first whore who doesn’t treat him like just another john…by which I mean Jessiah, when he pretends to be whore to try to get closer to Garrett in order to use the man, is nervous and shy rather than a perfunctory and professional fuck buddy. Jessiah seems to start falling for Garrett immediately, but it didn’t feel like he was actually seeing Garrett as a sympathetic man so much as…well, a way to have him fall in love with the man he was supposed to be using. Regardless of the flimsy legs their relationship is built upon, these characters develop deep feelings for one another.
The story also lacked any punch at the end. The whole point of Jessiah seducing Garrett was to gain the upperhand over the scientists who are apparently arbitrarily maintaining the status quo because it benefits the scientists. If there was a dramatic confrontation, I missed it. Part of Jessiah and the others even getting the upperhand involved some eleventh-hour backfilling of the plot. The most glaring example to me was the fact that at this point, some two-thirds of the way through the book, there is a reveal about this underground society and mere sentences later, this information is exactly what is needed for Jessiah and the others to make a huge discovery. Even more oddly, once Jessiah et al manage to get these scientists over a figurative barrel, they just go along with it. Few details are given about what actually happens after this plot climax.
Overall, this felt like a get-together bodice ripper style romance that has a little plot and backstory thrown in. Many of the themes felt disappointingly underutilized and the focus on sex, sex, sex between the MCs didn’t allow me to form any meaningful connection to the characters, either. I didn’t find this story very fulfilling, but it may be fit for some distracted reading while on holiday.