I haven’t read much sci-fi but it was the love story at the heart of Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan that drew me in. At its core Hold Back the Stars is a typical boy meets girl romance as Carys and Max battle obstacles to be together, but it’s so much more than just a love story. A fascinating premise, Hold Back the Stars is an unexpected and heartbreaking tale of love and sacrifice.
On the first page Katie Khan throws us into the action. Carys and Max are in a nail-biting predicament. Stranded in space they are drifting further away from their ship, alone with only each other for company, and just ninety minutes of air remaining in their space suits.
As each chapter counts down the number of minutes they have left before their oxygen supplies run out, Carys and Max reflect on their relationship. Through flashbacks we find out how their relationship evolved and the events that led them to be stuck in space.
Back on earth, their world is a future version of our own where the USA and Middle East have been decimated and Europe has become a utopian society called Europia. Every three years the European population are made to move with each “rotation”.
It’s a society which focuses on the individual and bans love so that people in their twenties have more to contribute. The Couples Rule prevents young people from getting together and long term relationships aren’t allowed until they’re thirty-five, which is an unsettling concept to get your head around.
Carys is training to be an astronaut and Max is an aspiring chef working at his family’s grocery shop. When they meet, the chemistry is undeniable and Max soon realises that he wants to be with Cary’s long term but, both in their mid-twenties, they challenge the rules by being together.
Max and Carys are both well-developed characters and you can’t help warming to them and their relationship despite their flaws. Their love story is realistic in a futuristic setting and complex without feeling forced.
Intense and claustrophobic, the tension builds as the minutes tick away and I was compelled to keep reading until I found out whether they survived or not. Their fear and hopelessness as they run out of solutions (and air) is infectious – I had to remind myself to breathe!
Katie Khan’s story telling is beautiful and very well researched. Brimming with twists and turns, the narrative is perfectly paced, culminating in a poignant ending you don’t see coming. If you’re not a fan of sci-fi, don’t let it put you off because, tragic and evocative, Hold Back the Stars is ultimately about love and reminds us never to underestimate its power.
“If your first love ends badly, then your self-esteem and confidence, how you trust and love – all of these are affected in your future by the shadow of how you loved, or were loved, in the past. You never get over your first, Carys. Your body doesn’t know how. But if you make it a positive, you can use the feelings and experiences you’ve known to grow and, in some ways, to make the next chapter of your life even better.” (p.254)