For months, Brady Garrett and his boyfriend Cam Rushton have been traveling through space on ship of an alien race called the Faceless. They’re accompanied by a small group of other military people, all of whom exposed themselves to Faceless biomater in order to acquire the mental link that allows a type of telepathy, and Brady’s little sister, who developed the link through sheer proximity to her brother. But instead of discovering the secrets of the universe and learning more about the Faceless as a species and a race, Brady and the others are instead kept as though they were house pets. The high emotions that roil through Brady, from livid anger to searing passion, seem to be of particular interest to Kai-ren, but apart from the Faceless ogling Brady and his fellow humans, there is little to no contact between the two groups.
That changes when Kai-ren pilots his quasi-sentient ship to the place where the Faceless breed. Disaster strikes when the Faceless battle regent learns his clutch of hatchlings has been altered by the presence of humans on board the ship. Whatever that might have meant for Brady and the others is soon eclipsed by infighting among the Faceless. As other ships return to the same place to hatch their own young, Kai-ren is beset by enemies who wish him dead. This puts Brady and the others in a dire predicament—they bear little affection for the Faceless who infected them with the invasive mental link, but they recognize their need for his help in getting them back home. But as the battle wages on, it looks like Kai-ren is on the losing side and that leaves Brady, Cam, and the others with little choice but to take up arms. No humans have ever won a fight against the Faceless, but if Brady wants a shot at a future, he and the others will have to figure it out.
Star Light is Lisa Henry’s third installment in the Dark Space series. While it picks up pretty much where the second book leaves off, it has the drastic shift away from human civilization and places the bulk of the action aboard the Faceless ship. The setting and the way Kai-ren and the other Faceless are described is laced with etymological shades of meaning. The mind link the Faceless use to communicate and their apparent behavior towards one another (and again when they start to lose fellow Faceless in the battle with another group) seems to fit the concept of “hive mentality” very well. This also extends to the ship. In the previous book, I only had a vague idea of what the ship was—and that was mostly that it was wildly different from anything a human would make. In Starlight, the ship is almost like a supporting character for the sheer magnitude of effect it has, especially on Brady. The characters ultimately decide the ship is rather like a queen insect itself and the Faceless are akin to the workers that service her. One thing I really loved about this aspect of the story telling is how often Brady expresses his frustration that even these similarities are colored by the limits of human language and human capacity comprehend something so drastically different.
One big difference in this book compared to the previous two was what I felt was a decreased focus on the relationship between Brady and Cam. While I would hesitate to say their scenes together felt perfunctory, I think I would describe their intimate scenes as very much in that vein. That said, there were several other brief moments laced through the book that hinted at the depth of their love for each other. Two of my favorites were when Cam and Brady are going through the process of getting suited up with Faceless armour and the last thing Brady sees before being completely enveloped in the protective alien gear is Cam grimacing. For me, this was significant because in the previous books, Cam was generally rationalizing the things Kai-ren and/or the Faceless did and explaining that it wasn’t fair or proper to judge their actions based on human morals. This extended to the physical means Kai-ren used to ensure a mind link with Cam when Cam was first abducted by the Faceless years ago. The grimace is an outward acknowledgement that Cam is now beginning to see that act as rape. I was a bit disappointed this shift in Cam’s perspective wasn’t explored more concretely on page, but there were a few other places where it’s clear he’s done excusing Kai-ren’s behavior. Another was when they’re about to step into the fray of the battle between the Faceless and they acknowledge they might not both make it back. It was a short, sweet line that I thought fit the characters and the moment in the story well.
Starlight focuses on the day-to-day lives of Brady and the others and details how discomforting it is to be traveling, to be stuck, on the Faceless ship. I think one of the most interesting aspects of this aspect of the story is how easy it was to shift from “weird alien ship” to “intergalactic space bug.” The descriptors seem to get increasingly organic and, by the end of the book, it’s easy to imagine the Faceless ship really is some sort of living entity. Henry weaves elements of this obviously biological ship into the plot to great effect. I suppose it also shows some growth on Brady’s part; he never stops being disgusted by the ship, but learns to work with it when the other options all mean dying. In addition to the ship, Chris takes a more central role in the story. In some ways, this was a means to an end—he was the analytical one who spent his days exploring everything about the Faceless ship, which of course proved extremely useful when he and the others had to save their own skins. On the other hand, this seemed true to the character that was introduced back in book one.
Overall, I thought this book was a good continuation of the series. While I was a bit surprised at the lack of focus on the Brady/Cam front, from a purely world-building aspect, this was an imaginative journey into an alien race. There were a lot of one-liners that had me prepping for the worst. I think fans of the series will be interested in how Kai-ren is depicted in this story. I know the Faceless-to-Faceless battle intrigued and the ultimate resolution for that conflict was well handled. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes the series, but would caution that it lacks a bit of the sweeping drama I thought was present in the previous installments.