A Shakespearean sci-fi tale of intergalactic war and falling in love.
Young adult sci-fi novel Chasing the Stars is the second work by Malorie Blackman to draw inspiration from a Shakespeare play. 2001’s Noughts & Crosses and its subsequent sequels alluded heavily to Romeo & Juliet with a heart-breaking tale of prejudice and forbidden love. Chasing the Stars taps into another of the Bard’s tragedies – this time Othello – and it has rather appropriately been released in 2016, coinciding with Shakespeare 400.
Olivia, better known as Vee, is a teenage girl travelling through space with her twin brother Aidan – they’re completely alone on the ship, after a mystery virus killed their parents and the rest of the crew three years ago. And far away on a small, lonely planet, a boy named Nathan is living with a community of survivors who have escaped slavery, but the Mazons, an alien race who claim the planet as their own, aren’t too happy about a bunch of humans intruding on their territory.
At first, Chasing the Stars barely resembles Othello at all. Some of the main characters are gender-flipped – Othello becomes Vee (Olivia), Desdemona becomes Nathan – and of course, there’s the fact that most of the story is set in space, on Vee’s ship. But after Nathan’s people are attacked and Vee rescues them, the love story begins and the similarities start to come through, with several memorable scenes coming across as almost identical to the play. Much like Othello, Chasing the Stars is about jealousy and the destruction it can cause, especially when applied to newly formed relationships – no matter how deeply in love the couple is. Vee and Nathan’s romance is a sweet, blissful whirlwind, but when a mystery killer starts bumping off the survivors on the ship and rumours start to fly, it soon becomes apparent just how fragile their relationship really is.
Chasing the Stars uses dual narration, so the reader gets to experience both Vee and Nathan’s thoughts as the plot develops, which emphasises just how damaging a lack of communication can be – seeing their internal thoughts, it’s easy to understand why these characters are acting and thinking the way they do, and they could totally sort things out if they would just talk to each other. Interestingly, the novel decides to look at the issue of classism instead of the racism prevalent in Othello; Nathan is often bothered that Vee might not think him good enough because he is an escaped ‘drone’ – a menial labourer and prisoner with no money or prospects, and this ultimately feeds into the drama.
Blackman sprinkles her story with pop-culture references and Shakespeare quotes, in case you forget who influenced this incredibly emotional and cinematic novel; although she takes liberties with the story line to surprise fans who are already familiar with Othello. Humanity is at loggerheads with the Mazons, resulting in some intense alien chase scenes, and while the romance is fast and fluffy, it’s understandable that the previously isolated Vee and the world-weary Nathan would gravitate towards each other so quickly – and Blackman doesn’t shy away from detailing the damaging consequences.
You don’t have to be familiar with the source material to appreciate Chasing the Stars, and even if you are, there’s still plenty to surprise you, since the final act is packed full of plot twists that will shake your understanding of the rest of the book. It’s a heavy tome at nearly 500 pages, but it never drags or drowns itself in sci-fi jargon. Although this novel was initially promoted as a standalone, there are enough threads left untied to lead into a sequel – which is appropriate as Blackman has since announced that it will be a trilogy. But for now, Chasing the Stars exists as a fresh yet familiar sci-fi take on a Shakespeare play; one that combines a murder mystery, aliens, stem-cell food dispensers and futuristic spacecrafts, but still manages to retain all the heart-wrenching drama that made Othello such a powerful tragedy.
Chasing the Stars is written by Malorie Blackman and was published by Penguin Random House in 2016.