Good Omens meets The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet in Ryka Aoki’s Light From Uncommon Stars, a defiantly joyful adventure set in California’s San Gabriel Valley, with cursed violins, Faustian bargains, and queer alien courtship over fresh-made donuts.
Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six.
When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka’s ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She’s found her final candidate.
But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn’t have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan’s kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul’s worth. And maybe something as small as a warm donut is powerful enough to break a curse as vast as the California coastline.
As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe for is found.
Deals with a demon, aliens, donut shops and transgender runaways, all mixed together in one novel. It shouldn’t work, so many elements but this novel is such a harmonious whole bound together by a love of music and of humanity, of family, and love not perfect but otherworldly. Ryka Aoki does an incredible job of blending all of these elements together, creating a beautiful and sublime story about redemption, family, and embracing the unique qualities that make us human.
Perhaps it is Ryka’s way with the characters. Despite Shizuka’s bargain with demons, she is absolutely likeable. I fell in love with Katrina, her bravery and her willingness to escape her past into a better life. I loved Shizuka’s parental love for Katrina and her desire to risk new relationships, with Katrina and with Lan. And I love Lan, her family, and the donut shop. All the unique elements of the story come together in such a wondrous joy that I couldn’t even stop reading.
Part of what made it so incredible is the diverse relationships and characters. One of the best elements is Katrina being transgender and her voice in the story, showing others both the struggles and the joys. The descriptions of music are beyond detailed and incredibly knowledgeable. And the different points of view make the story rich and full of depth.
This is one of the best novels I’ve read and I highly recommend reading it. You won’t be disappointed and you will fall in love with the story and characters as much as I did.
Rating: 5 out of 5 donuts.