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Uncharted Stars is the superior sequel to the Zero Stone and continues the adventures of Murdoc Jern, itinerant jewel dealer and his companion, Eet the mysterious mutant born from a ship's cat. Eet is not merely a mutant but is the reincarnation of an alien from the time of the Forerunners ancient and powerful aliens long gone from the spaceways.
Jern had obtained a Zero Stone, an artifact of the Forerunners, as an inheritance from his father. The elder Jern was the owner of a pawn shot in a spaceport but is revealed to have been a retired VIP (Veep) in the quasi government of the Thieves Guild. Jern's father collected more than gems and curiosities- he collected secrets and mysteries. One of these, the Zero Stone, cost him his life and set his adopted son wandering the stars, looking for answers.
Zeros stones are sources of power augmenting any ship or weapon they touch. Murdoc learns this in the first book as he is pursued across space by both the Guild and the Space Patrol. At the end of the first book Jern and Eet have won a truce with the Patrol, escaping imprisonment with a reward and a single small zero stone.
Jern and Eet purchase a small ship, with a pilot of dubious character and set off hunting zero stones while trying to make a living off of lesser gems. In this they are frustrated by the fact that the Patrol still lists them as criminals and the Guild still hunts them. Their initial successes come to nothing against this institutional hostility, they are driven further and further into the shadows and closer to the Guild.
But a chance encounter with pirates and a massacred expedition of archeologists put Eet, Jern and their pilot on a course into the depths of space, to the fabled pirate base of Waystar, in the company of a Zacathan scholar they rescued. The lizard being is of an old and honored race still not evolved when the Forerunners roamed space but who hold most of the galaxy's history in trust and pursue knowledge for its own sake. At Waystar, Jern poses as his father, the former Thieves Guild Veep, to recover a bowl that is actually a star map, showing the homeworld of the Zero Stones.
After many narrow escapes the small expedition heads to that lost and forbidden world and a date with living history.
The Pros: As with the Zero Stone- Norton's description of gems and gem lore seduces us. There are times that we almost resent the main plot line dragging us away from the various gem-trading expeditions Jern takes us on. We learn to love the flame-tipped zorans and revel in the adventure where we acquire the fabled greenstones of the ice-world. Norton's galaxy doesn't merely serve the plot line. It is rich and varied and we feel these worlds have their own fascinating histories. We wish we could turn aside and study them more. It's like a good dinner that tantalizes the pallet but does not quite fill the stomach, leaving us wanting a little more. We sense sometimes that we are on the edge of adventures of other characters that we meet, notably on the ice-world, and that their adventures are as desperate and meaningful to them as Jern's is to him.
Waystar, the pirate hold is well and vividly described. With its outer shell of dead and looted ships, it's a place to haunt the imagination.
Yes it is the burgeoning relationship between Eet and Jern, with its highs and lows, its silences, angers and devotion that is the heart of this novel. Jern is determined not to be junior partner in that relationship, despite Eet's powers and encyclopedic knowledge. The nature of this relationship will be so obvious to you in retrospect, after the big reveal, that you will wonder how you didn't see this coming.
The Cons: Not many. The book could be longer and more detailed. Norton was not a scientist or a physicist, she never really troubles herself about how any technology works. She has a tendency to hang an 'er' on any bit of machinery: blaster, flitter, reader etc.
Sex and sexuality are largely absent from her work, though in this case? Well, I will let that be a bit of a surprise.
In sum, Uncharted Stars is the quintessential Norton and loses nothing to being a YA book.
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