This Reclaim the Stars book review explores Zoraida Córdova’s anthology and the stories that go above and beyond.
I love anthologies because each story is a little snapshot of a new world, as well as the person who created it. They’re an excellent way to discover authors or revisit favorite ones in unexpected ways.
When I first heard about Reclaim the Stars, I knew it was my kind of book. Not only did this collection hold stories from various Latinx authors I’ve been meaning to read for quite some time, but those same stories would take place in both the fantasy and science fiction genres—I wouldn’t have to choose!
We set out for the farthest reaches of space, for the briefest of moments, to visit humans and aliens alike. These worlds are unique, and yet there’s plenty that’s familiar—a driving need to explore the unknown, the eternal obsession with the vast beauty and unnerving emptiness of space, and that powerful desire to survive.
And just as you get used to seeing the stars outside your window, you’re sucked through a portal and into half a dozen fantasy worlds, each with their own kind of magic. Ghosts and potions and monsters abound, but so do heroes and gods and miracles.
As different as these stories are, they all share common themes of love and loss, power and commitment, kindness and cruelty. They’re reflections of our own world, molded by the words that transport us into new realities.
One aspect of this book, and the part of my Reclaim the Stars book review I most wanted to talk about, was the infusion of queer stories. The vast majority of these tales did not shy away from including LGBTQIA+ main characters, and my surprise and delight at seeing them fall in love time and time again is difficult to put into words.
Some of these romances were about defying expectations and falling in love even when the world is against you, while others were as sweet and gentle as anything you’ve ever read before.
Despite the fact that I gravitate toward queer stories, Reclaim the Stars still exceeded my expectations. The first story is about two women who love each other being forced to fight to the death, and that’s only the beginning of what this anthology has to offer. I don’t want to give too much away, but suffice it to say that many—albeit not all—of these tales end in triumph.
While there is loss and grief and devastation, I found the majority of this anthology to hold stories of love, victory, and transcendence. Isn’t that what we all hope to discover in our lifetime?
The real clincher for me, however, was the fact that three of the Rick Riordan Presents authors were included in this anthology: J.C. Cervantes, Daniel José Older, and Mark Oshiro.
I’ve been a fan of Rick Riordan for well over a decade now, and the Rick Riordan Presents imprint has been everything I ever could’ve dreamed of and more. Discovering new authors who write about mythology and folklore has been a delight, and I’ve had a lot of fun following their careers outside of this umbrella.
In fact, I even started a podcast with one of my best friends so we could talk about Rick Riordan, the imprint, and all of the incredible stories these writers have blessed us with. Kristen and I put out a new episode of Prophecy Radio every week, and we often talk about the RRP authors’ other projects on air.
So, I wouldn’t be true to my origins if I didn’t spotlight those stories in my Reclaim the Stars book review, would I?
We begin with Daniel José Older, who may be new to Rick Riordan Presents (he’s writing the first YA title under the imprint, Ballad and Dagger) but is well-known in plenty of other circles, especially when it comes to Star Wars.
It should be no surprise, then, that “Flecha” takes place amongst the stars, in a giant battle cruiser that would make any rebel pilot jump for joy. Our two main characters are about as different as they can be—Taya is a human and Grengraf is…not. But they make good partners, and maybe even friends.
When they return to Earth only to find something horrible has happened, Taya is filled with rage. But that’s soon cut short when they spot a ship hovering over the surface. A choice must be made—one that will seal all of their fates.
I haven’t read Older’s other work yet, but he infuses “Flecha” with simple and direct details, and Taya provides an easy narration. The action ramps up quickly, and the final moments offer a glimpse of hope. That’s exactly what I like to see in my sci-fi.
Next, we have J.C. Cervantes’ “Eterno.” This was one of the most interesting stories in Reclaim the Stars because it was about an eternal being who fell in love with a human. That might seem run-of-the-mill, but I’ve never read a story quite like this.
The characters are unique and interesting, the love story feels real, and it’s full of the type of cathartic heartbreak that leaves you sad yet at peace. Like many of the other shorts in this book, I felt like “Eterno” was just a peek into an entire world brimming with more tales to tell. I’ve come to realize this is a hallmark of Cervantes’ books, including but not limited to her Storm Runner series for RRP.
Lastly, we have “This Is Our Manifesto” by Mark Oshiro (who’s writing the Nico di Angelo book with Rick Riordan), which was one of the most visceral and compelling stories in Reclaim the Stars. It moves at a quick pace, starting with the narrator reading an email with a manifesto that describes the current state of the universe.
A group of teenagers have been sent away to another planet as punishment for their crimes. It’s an obvious parallel to our own prison system and how it takes advantage of criminal labor. The best part about “This Is Our Manifesto,” however, is seeing the kids take back their minds, their bodies, and their purpose.
More than any other story, Oshiro’s made me want to get up and fight against injustice. It may have taken place on a far-off planet in a fictional version of our world, but it still reflects the reality of our everyday life.
Each story in this anthology brought something wonderful to the table, but I want to end my Reclaim the Stars book review with my four favorite ones. I’ve never read any of these authors before, but this book has convinced me to change that as soon as possible.
First, there was “Reign of Diamonds” by Anna-Marie McLemore. I mentioned this one at the top of the article because it caught me by surprise. Right out of the gate, we have a woman-loving-woman romance full of power, heartbreak, and action.
Each princess has their own special ability—one full of fire and one full of ice (literally), and they’re pitted against each other for the right to rule. Their families and, it feels like, the entire galaxy are watching them.
But underneath the magic and the anger and the tradition is a gentleness I reveled in. Not all stories need to end in tragedy, and “Reign of Diamonds” sets a good precedence for the rest of the book.
“The First Day of Us” by David Bowles is one of the best short stories I’ve ever read. It is, simply, a love story between three people. If you’ve ever found yourself saying “less love triangles, more threesomes,” then this story is you. It is exactly what polyamory should be, and I loved seeing it represented here.
The characters are bold, both in their personalities and their actions. There’s a subplot about their ship getting attacked, but it’s merely a vehicle to push the love story forward. I enjoyed every second of watching these characters fall in love, and I hope you do, too.
Next, we have “Rogue Enchantments” by Isabel Ibañez, which captured my heart immediately. It is about a young girl, Graciela, on her first day setting up a booth in the magical marketplace called La Hechiceria. And everything that goes horribly wrong when she discovers she’s not exactly welcome there.
This story is full of ghosts and magic, and I couldn’t have been more delighted. The magic here is unique, and Graciela’s specific brand of it even more so. Not only does Ibañez paint a beautiful picture of the people, food, and culture that exist in this world, but she also introduces a solid mystery that I couldn’t wait to solve.
Last, but certainly not least, we have “Tame the Wicked Night” by Zoraida Córdova, which was far and away my favorite story in this anthology. (I hate to play favorites, truly, but this is my Reclaim the Stars book review, and I’ll do what I want!) I know it’s common practice for the editor to place their story last, but no other story could’ve anchored this book like this one did.
In “Wicked Night,” Aurelio chooses not to enter into an arranged marriage because he does not love the woman. As a result, her father challenges him to tame the Wicked Night, a monstrous beast who lives in the mountains. No one has ever returned alive.
It’ll come as no surprise that what Aurelio finds is not quite a monster, and yet his life hangs in the balance every moment he spends with the Wicked Night. The way Córdova sets such an excellent pace in so short of a time span is truly miraculous. Nothing seems too rushed or too drawn out, and yet I was flipping pages like my life depended on it.
So many of these short stories would have made excellent full-length novels, but out of all of them, I wish “Tame the Wicked Night” was at least 300 pages longer.
Thank you to all of the authors who contributed to Reclaim the Stars, bringing these fantasy and sci-fi worlds to life. Each one was infused with Latinx culture, whether through language or food or custom, and it made these tales all the richer.
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