SPSFC Semifinalist Review: Dead Star by Simon Kewin

After whittling our initial 30-book allotment down to three, my SPSFC team has received six more semifinalists from other judging teams. Our scores of these six new books, along with our original three semifinalists, will combine with with 81 other scores (nine each from nine teams) to determine the SPSFC finalists.

Each of the six books we’re reviewing this round comes with a recommendation from another blogger judging this competition, and almost all of them come with multiple strong recommendations from members of their first-round judging team. So keep in mind when you read our reviews that they are only our own thoughts, and they do not exist in a vacuum.

Finally, before I move to the scores themselves, I want to offer some candid comments about this competition so far. My teammates have been wonderful to work with, but it sometimes seems as though there’s an unwritten rule that we cannot be permitted to agree on anything. Of the sixteen books we’ve read to completion across the quarterfinals and semifinals, fourteen of them have received a low score or a DNF from at least one team member–even though almost all of those fourteen have earned hearty recommendations from another teammate. As a result, our mean scores have fallen significantly short of our median scores. Now it would be unfair to books we’ve previously judged to change our scoring system in the middle of the competition (though there will be plenty to reevaluate for next year), so the official scores stand. But I want to highlight that one or two readers not meshing with a particular writing style or subgenre can really harm a score, and that does not mean the book is not worth reading. So while the score matters for the competition, it’s the reviews that should be your guide as you determine whether or not a particular book may be worth a look. Because one reader’s hard stop may be another reader’s favorite element.

Today, we look at Dead Star, Simon Kewin’s tale of the hunt for a suppressed history that could bring down a tyrannical galactic empire that drew rave reviews from its first-round judges.

Jay’s Review and Rating

Overall, I found this an easy story to devour. Even if the lead was a bit too rash and the villains a bit too shallow, the mysterious history that animated the plot was fascinating, and the writing style made it hard to put down. I don’t feel like I can fully evaluate the story until I read the rest of the trilogy, but the first book certainly motivates me to read the rest of the trilogy.

Jay has rated Dead Star 7.5/10. For more detail, check out his full review.

Esme’s Review and Rating

I really, really enjoyed most aspects of the book and found to be engaging in all the right ways. The world building outside of the Concordance had a lot of mystery and intrigue and it kept me wanting to know more. There were hints about lost knowledge and planets that was placed at just the right time to give the reader some steam. There were also a bunch of just very neat ideas laced into the book to give it that extra appeal, a little extra pop — like “ghostshipping” which was a trippy AF scene.

Esme has rated Dead Star 8/10. For more detail, check out her full review.

Lilyn’s Review and Rating

Books in a series should be be able to be standalones and this does not feel like one to me. The end of the book outright irritated me because there were too many questions left unanswered nor did it feel like this book really had a solid arc that was brought to a close. The author dithers about with stuff about the creation or evolution of the bipedal form which slows the story down. There is no particular reason to root for the characters. The world-building is competent but fairly unimaginative. It was easy to read but it wasn’t particularly engaging.

Lilyn has rated Dead Star 4/10.

Bill’s Review and Rating

Probably my favorite of all of our semifinalists, Dead Star is a fast moving space adventure with lots of interesting plot lines that (for the most part) do not get too tangled. I can imagine that some will find it too chock full of ideas and zippy action but I found it just right. This is the only book I’ve read for SPSFC for which I plan to read the sequel. Well done.

Bill has rated Dead Star 8/10.

Tracy’s Review and Rating

It’s the writing that really lost me on this. I can’t put my finger on it exactly other than most of the time it seemed that it said in 20 words what could’ve been done in much less. After that, I just couldn’t engage and started skimming. By then, I knew it was over for me and this book.

Tracy has rated Dead Star as a DNF.

Official Scores

Jay 7.5
Esme 8*
Lilyn 4
Bill 8*
Tracy DNF
Team 6.11

*indicates judge’s top book read in the first two rounds of SPSFC judging.

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