Aoki (He Mele a Hilo) draws from her own experiences as a queer Japanese American woman to craft a dark but ultimately hopeful sci-fi exploration of the threats faced by queer people of color. Violin teacher Shizuka Satomi has a contract with hell to deliver the souls of seven brilliant violinists. When she meets Katrina Nguyen in Los Angeles, Shizuka is certain she’ll make the perfect final sacrifice. Katrina, a transgender runaway and survival sex worker with no prior musical training, possesses a supernatural musical gift and is happy to trade her soul for lessons and a safe place to stay. Shizuka calls on Lucy Matìa, a third-generation violin restorer, to repair both Katrina’s beloved violin and the cursed bow that will steal Katrina’s soul. But as the women get to know each other, Shizuka starts having second thoughts. Meanwhile, Shizuka’s slow-burn romance with Lan Tran, a donut maker and extraterrestrial refugee fleeing danger on her home planet, further complicates her plans. Aoki’s depiction of abuse and trauma is unflinching and intense, but at its core, the novel is a love letter to immigrant culture and the power people have to save each other. Readers prepared for the emotionally difficult scenes will find a beautiful, satisfying story of redemption and families of choice. (Sept.)
“The book brought me to tears . . . and bursts with love and insights on food, music, inheritance and transformation.”—The New York Times
“Filled with mouthwatering descriptions of food and heart-swelling meditations on music, this novel is an unexpected gift.”—Kirkus, starred review
“Aoki's novel is an exciting, wild web of an adventure, an unputdownable book about music, found family, and identity. Diving into the tough subjects, Aoki's book emerges with a joyful, queer, radical ballad of a story. . .”—Booklist, starred review
“A dark but ultimately hopeful sci-fi exploration of the threats faced by queer people of color [and] a love letter to immigrant culture and the power people have to save each other . . . a beautiful, satisfying story of redemption and families of choice.”—Publishers Weekly
“A transformative marvel. I have never read a book quite like this before. I laughed. I wept. I believed in the power of souls. This is a novel that will be talked about for years to come, and deservedly so. I. Loved. This. Book.”—T. J. Klune, New York Times bestselling author
“Delightful and heartbreaking. An unexpected mashup of science fiction and fantasy that will make you love music, crave donuts, and wish to read it all again.”—John Scalzi, New York Times bestselling author
“This book broke my heart and glued it back together stronger than before. Skillful, stunning, absolutely gorgeous.”—Becky Chambers, USA Today bestselling author
“A beautiful story of friendship and love . . . incredibly soothing and kind and sweet and delightful. I fell in love with these characters and did not even realize how desperately I needed this story right now.”—Charlie Jane Anders, author of All the Birds in the Sky
“A story that sparkles with magic and music and joy; this book just sings.”—Everina Maxwell, author of Winter's Orbit
“A kaleidoscopic and riveting symphony . . . Aoki has conjured the most spellbinding venues to unpack race, sexuality, and class with both ingenuity and heart. A new classic.”—Sequoia Nagamatsu, author of Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone
“Ryka Aoki's prose is sublime, the emotional connections she makes are like sparkling jewels . . . Light From Uncommon Stars is fantastic, beautiful, and deeply, profoundly moving.”—Jenn Lyons, author of Ruin of Kings
“A singing, full-hearted, fearless—and fearlessly goofy—vision that dances across the border between real and surreal, heartrending and sweet, with the nonstop energy of Douglas Adams, and a deep, merciless compassion.”—Max Gladstone, author of Empress of Forever
Katrina Nguyen is a survivor. A runaway, queer, transgender violinist, Katrina jumps out of her window one night, with a broken rib, a black eye, her hormones, and her violin. She escapes the abuse of her father for what she hopes is the safety of a friend in Los Angeles. Shizuka Satomi is the Queen of Hell and has one more year to deliver her seventh and final soul to Hell, or she will be damned forever. She is a brilliant violin teacher who has taught the likes of Burke, Tourischeva, Eisen, and Choi, taking them as young aspiring musicians and creating stars. Katrina and Shizuka meet on a park bench in El Molino Park, and Shizuka hears something in Katrina's violin playing. Could she be the seventh soul? Aoki's writing is as lovely as a violinist's concerto. At times humorous, interspersed with delicious descriptions of the L.A. food scene, Aoki's beautiful novel explores Asian and transgender identity in the form of a science fiction novel with Star Trek and Star Wars references aplenty. At its heart, the novel is a metaphor for taking someone broken and giving them the love, tenderness, and time they need to heal. VERDICT A brilliant story about resilience, vitality, and risking being broken to give everything.—Gretchen Schulz, Schaumburg Township District Lib., IL
A runaway trans girl, a harvester of souls for hell, and a family of refugee alien doughnut makers collide in unexpected and wondrous ways.
Katrina Nguyen is on the run. She’s escaped her violent father and come to crash in Los Angeles with a queer friend, except now that she’s actually here, he’s not exactly as welcoming as she'd hoped. But she’s got her laptop, her hormones, and her violin—everything she needs for now. Shizuka Satomi is looking for her next student. The world knows her as a legendary violin teacher, sometimes called the Queen of Hell. What no one knows is that she’s had 49 years to actually deliver seven souls to hell. Now her time is almost up, and she wants her last soul to be someone special. Lan Tran and her family run Starrgate Donut, but they too have a secret: Their doughnuts are replicated, not baked, and they are alien refugees from a galactic war. Used to rejection and hatred, Katrina can’t bring herself to trust the offer of private violin lessons from a striking stranger. But as her life gradually begins to intertwine with the lives of Shizuka, Lan, and other colorful, well-drawn characters, everyone receives unexpected gifts of tenderness. Musicians selling their souls to hell shouldn’t fit in the same story as alien doughnut makers building a stargate, but somehow all these elements combine to create something wild and beautiful.
Filled with mouthwatering descriptions of food and heart-swelling meditations on music, this novel is an unexpected gift.