Book Review: Ignite the Stars by Maura Milan – An Excellent YA Sci-Fi with Social Discourse, Helmed by Three Brilliant & Realised Characters

Text in the center:


Everyone in the universe knows his name. Everyone in the universe fears him. But no one realizes that notorious outlaw Ia Cocha is a seventeen-year-old girl.

A criminal mastermind and unrivaled pilot, Ia has spent her life terrorizing the Olympus Commonwealth, the imperialist nation that destroyed her home. When the Commonwealth captures her and her true identity is exposed, they see Ia’s age and talent as an opportunity: by forcing her to serve them, they will prove that no one is beyond their control.

Soon, Ia is trapped at the Commonwealth’s military academy, desperately plotting her escape. But new acquaintances—including Brinn, a seemingly average student with a closely-held secret, and their charming Flight Master, Knives—cause Ia to question her own alliances. Can she find a way to escape the Commonwealth’s clutches before these bonds deepen?

My review:

I’m still in awe. Going into Ignite the Stars, I had a feeling that I would like it, but I had no idea that I would love it. It follows Ia Cocha, a teenage criminal mastermind and genius pilot who is captured by her enemy and is forced to work for their military academy. While she plots her escape, she meets two others at the academy that will change her life and its trajectory forever. It has so much to offer and boasts some incredible elements that readers will love: discourse on social and political issues relevant to today, found family, female friendships, and a slow-burn enemies-to-lovers romance.


One of the reasons why I found Ignite the Stars utterly delightful (and utterly devastating) was because of its incredibly compelling and terrifying discourse and glimpse into a future with galactic imperialism. Homes, planets, and races of people destroyed – Ignite the Stars is a brilliant story that examines how the advancement of technology, space travel, expansion of humanity across the galaxy, imperialism, the role of the media, its process, and its devastating impact, are not too different to society as we can examine across history and today.

For all its socio-political discourse, the story possesses elements of a great space opera: space warfare (the opening was quite reminiscent of Star Wars and sets up the world’s political nature excellently), a little bit of romance (the enemies-to-lovers in this story was slow-burn and delicious), and offers a fascinating and frightening vision of what the warfare – intergalactic and psychological – may look like with advanced technology and weaponry. Though space operas are often characterised with sweeping adventures, I argue that the adventure in Ignite the Stars may not quite be the typical adventure across a galaxy, but the adventure into the characters’ stories and vulnerabilities and how their adventures lead them to the events of the story.


Ignite the Stars is led and driven by three brilliant and realised characters: Ia Cocha, the cunning but mistrustful rebel who opposes the Commonwealth and wears the antagonist image her enemies have painted of her like battle armour; Knives, a flight master at the academy who questions his loyalty to the Commonwealth as well as the purpose of their imperialist regimes following the death of his loved one; and Brinn Tarver, a biracial cadet at the academy with a secret about her identity and forms an unlikely friendship with Ia.

Though very different from one another, the ways these three characters come together is one of the most satisfying character arcs I have read in a long time. My favourite character, though, was Brinn, whose character development centers on her working through her internalised prejudices and racism, and coming to terms with her identity as a Tawny, a race of people who are oppressed and hated by the Commonwealth. The relationship that she develops with Ia was wonderful – a much-needed and meaningful friendship between two complex women who grow and learn from each other. Additionally, the clever and sharp dynamics between the two made their dialogue and unlikely friendship – including, of course, how their barriers and prejudices of each other break down over time – so much fun and rewarding to read.


Often with character-driven narratives, there is a tendency for the story to be relegated to the sidelines. Ignite the Stars, however, is a prime example of a story that can do both: have a narrative that is driven by its characters’ stories, growth, and journeys, that is nicely balanced with a great overarching story. The story explores imperialism, how propaganda and narratives shape how we perceive the world and history as we know it, and how different perspectives can justify their own forms of justice and righteousness.

The themes in Ignite the Stars are explored through the characters in the story: Ia, and how the Commonwealth was able to paint a narrative of her criminality to sow fear and justify their war and imperialism; Brinn, and how everyday people can internalise propaganda and become machinations of their own cognitive dissonance and patriotism; and Knives, how duty and patriotism can be a prison that obliges you to a cause out of necessity and survival. Additionally, Ignite the Stars isn’t only about the characters’ unique perspectives, but it also examines how the characters, on different sides of the war, perceive each other, conflict with each other, and eventually learn from one another, and how such perceptions are extremely gray and blurred. I found Ignite the Stars absolutely compelling and fascinating, and also extremely thought-provoking.


Though I was drawn to the fact that this book had an umambiguous Asian model in the front, I certainly stayed for its incredible story and unforgettable characters. Quite frankly, Ignite the Stars is perhaps the best YA space opera that I have ever had the pleasure of reading, and it has renewed my dormant adoration for space opera stories.

Goodreads | Book Depository | My short review on Goodreads

Is this book for you?

Perfect for: Readers who want to read an exciting science-fiction; who love character-driven novels with great development; who want a story with social discourse

Think twice if: character-driven stories aren’t your thing; not a fan of multiple perspectives (this has three); not a fan of space stories.

Genre: science-fiction

Trigger/content warnings: murder, graphic violence, blood mentions, slaver/slavery, medical implant without consent, torture

Let’s discuss!

Milan recently announced the title of the second book of this series!

I’m so excited! I can tell that this is going to be such a brilliant series, and I cannot wait to see where Milan takes the series next. Also – space noodles? I must know what it means!!

  • Have you read Ignite the Stars? If so, what did you think of it?
  • Do you like space operas? What sort of science-fiction do you like?
  • I love that this cover had an unambiguous Asian character at the front. What books do you love that have a marginalised character in the cover?

13 thoughts on “Book Review: Ignite the Stars by Maura Milan – An Excellent YA Sci-Fi with Social Discourse, Helmed by Three Brilliant & Realised Characters

  1. YESSSS CW I am so happy you loved this! it’s one of my favorite reads all year and I LOVE LOVE LOVED it so much!

    eclipse the skies… so far away…..I cry

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oooh you had me at slow burn enemies-to-lovers romance. My trope to end all tropes!

    Now you mention it, I don’t think I’ve ever read a space opera. In terms of what science fiction I like – I don’t think particular plots or scenarios especially appeal to me. If there are characters that I connect with and a crew I desperately want to join then I am almost always in. I’ve always been more interested in character than plot – which isn’t to say I don’t need plot, but that a super dramatic story with poor characterisation won’t hold my interest.

    Liked by 1 person

    • LYDIA! 💛
      The relationship in this one is great, and developed so thoughtfully as well. I really recommend this!

      Ooh I know what you mean. I think IGNITE THE STARS is a great balance of both – great character development to keep you interested and invested, and also a good plot to keep the momentum going and raises the stakes too. I think you’ll like this book then! 💛

      Liked by 1 person

  3. ‘I love that this cover had an unambiguous Asian character at the front. What books do you love that have a marginalised character in the cover?’

    Technically eZines and not books but I feel like FIYAH and The Brown Orient have gorgeous covers. I think Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix was the first book as a young kid I saw with an Asian girl on it.

    I thought I had outgrown YA but you seem to find the best ones! 😍

    Liked by 1 person

      • You have posted short story collections before and eZines are pretty similar. Plenty of diverse/international ones. That said I don’t know if there are any YA focused ones and if that is an issue for you. 🤷

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much Jeann!
      Yesss, this book is brilliant and so underappreciated. I definitely hope others will pick it up in time for the sequel which comes out in the second half of the year!

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Jeann! 💛


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