Story Rating: 4.5 stars
Audio Rating: 4.5 stars

Narrator: Michael Lesley
Length: 11 hours, 16 minutes

Audiobook Buy Links: Amazon/Audible | iBooks
Book Buy Links: Amazon | iBooks

This review is for the second book in the Tinkered Starsong series and the books must be enjoyed in order. This review will carry some spoilers for book one, Divinity 36. Again, as I’m reviewing an audiobook that features alien races and names I’ve never read, it’s possible that some of my spellings will be off.

To recap, Phex is a humanoid that’s been genetically engineered for perfection from conception, but he wasn’t perfect enough in his xenophobic society and was relegated to a short life of dangerous service. He escaped, received asylum on a moon, and was later selected to audition to become a Cantor (singer of sorts) in a performance group trained by the Deysi in Godsong. At the end of Divinity 36, we learned that Phex’s voice is so strong that he’s capable of harming Dyesi skin-sifters with its power. Phex is appalled by this, because he’s a gentle giant sort, and holds back his power regularly to prevent injury.

A pantheon has been assembled around Phex, who is considered “the sun” of the group, the person whose charisma supports and holds the group together. His five partners in Asterism–the name of their pantheon–are really unusual in their selection as well. Beyond the two required Dyesi skinsifters, most of the others come from worlds never before seen in a pantheon. They are all thoroughly delighted to be demigods and standard bearers for their races. They also know that Phex’s continued association with Missit, cantor of Tillem, could become a huge problem to their pantheon’s ascendancy if the Dyesi discover the forbidden intimacy that’s developing between Phex and Missit.

Asterism has been paired with Tillem to tour, way ahead of schedule. Usually a new pantheon would spend a year or more practicing, writing their own godsongs and having some small appearances to broadcast out to gain a following. Instead, because Fortew, the other Cantor of Tillem, has a terminal disease, Missit’s pantheon is on a final tour. Phex’s voice is strong enough to sing Tillem’s godsong alongside Missit, and he’s being tasked with understudy to Fortew, along with his own dual role of Cantor and occasional Grace (dancer) within Asterism. These two pantheons are in a spaceship en route to their first concert within days of Asterism’s formation.

Being aboard ship together gives Phex and Missit time to develop more intimacy, in a way that isn’t missed by their pantheon members, but is overlooked by the Dyesi acolytes, who have no sexual attractions. Phex feels a sense of duty to Missit, who he’s growing enamored of, because Phex has never had anyone care about him before. An orphaned crudrat, he never imagined becoming the love of anyone–and now he has his pantheon, with members who truly care for and need him, as well as Missit, the golden Dyesi god. Missit was drawn to Phex when he was barely even a potential god, and this attraction has only grown. In order to grow affection for Phex amongst Tillem’s fans, Missit develops a separate performance, a duet of song and dance, that harkens back to “ancient” human origins. It’s a perfect cover for Missit’s desire to have Phex physically close to him.

There’s a lot of danger on the horizon, with Fixed fans hungering after Asterism. Phex fears someone will harm one of his pantheon, or Missit, prompting him to further training for both pantheon’s performances, and also as a bodyguard. Fortew’s health is deteriorating, and he wants Phex to mind Missit, who’s emotionally adrift in the wake of his closest confidante’s illness. Fortew is the sun of Tillem, and his imminent death has Missit in a grief spiral–one that intimacy with Phex assuages.

It seems as if Missit could be using Phex, and his pantheon members warn Phex of this continuously, but Phex’s attraction to Missit is beyond just the admiration of a young god for one established. It’s a nascent love for a person who’s never had any before, and Missit’s always been adored, but he seems to have a genuine attraction to Phex that really comes through in the narration. I felt his frustration whenever Phex tried to hold him back or create separation. Narrator Michael Lesley, as I mentioned in the review for Divinity 36, does an incredible job with the myriad of alien voices. The longing Phex feels for kinship and for Missit translated clearly in the audio in a way that gave gravitas to such a young character. He’s assuming a huge amount of responsibility and has the physical capacity to meet these many expectations. Missit, who seems a bit spoiled, has a tone that reflects his cajoling nature, but also his strained desires.

This story really centers on the relationship building between Phex and the members of both pantheons, Missit specifically, and even the bodyguards that surround them. Phex’s voice is a point of strength and danger, as Asterism develops Fixed fans at a rate no one had anticipated. The danger of celebrity is certainly a big theme throughout, as is the peril that Phex and Missit’s illicit relationship poses. I found the story very compelling, with great pacing and enough misdirection to keep me wondering where all of the political machinations will take the characters. I really love Phex, he’s so selfless and giving. Missit’s a bit more challenging; he’s more self-serving, yet he serves as a model for Phex to seek his own personal satisfaction, beyond what Phex gleans from what he does for others. The host of other characters provide enough support to make the conflicts viable, with Phex having a deep connection to all of his pantheon, when he’d never had any prior.

The audiobook is a really awesome listen and I was eager to get on with the third book’s resolution to figure out the reason behind the Divinity’s pantheon-building, and how Phex and Missit navigate their growing relationship.