“From the time of my birth my brother Miles read me like a map, tracing my patterns of freckles and birthmarks to see my future and to learn something of his own.”
Like every woman, Celeste Morton holds a map of the future in her skin, every mole and freckle a clue to unlocking what will come to pass. With puberty comes the changeling period – when her final marks will appear and her future is decided. The possibilities are tantalising enough for Celeste’s excitement to outweigh her fear. Changelings are sought after commodities and abduction is rife as men seek to possess these futures for themselves.
Thank you to the publisher and to Netgalley for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Celeste’s marks have always been closely entwined with her brother, Miles. Her skin holds a future only he, as a gifted interpreter, can read and he has always considered his sister his practice ground. But when Celeste’s marks change she learns a devastating secret about her brother’s future that she must keep to herself – and Miles is keeping a secret of his own. When the lies of brother and sister collide, Celeste determines to create a future that is truly her own.
Body of Stars is set in a world like ours in seemingly every way except for the fact that every woman is born with markings (they look like freckles and moles) on her skin that predict future events of her life, and once she is around 16 she becomes a changeling, meaning that her “baby marks” change to reflect adult predictions. During this changeling period girls’ senses are hyperactive, and they take on a glow that makes them irresistible to men, which makes them vulnerable to kidnapping. Kidnapped girls will be kept by their abuser until their changeling period is over, most likely being drugged and assaulted, and having their markings copied out to be sold, before being left in the streets to be found by authorities or family. After this their futures are essentially over, as girls who are taken are not allowed to pursue higher education, and consequently find it hard to start a career.
By the description I have just given, I would say that this book is not for the fainthearted, and I have also seen it compared many times to The Handmaid’s Tale, as it is in the vein of oppressed women fighting to get their freedom. I found, though, that despite the harsh topics and the traumatic events that befall Celeste and other characters, that Body of Stars didn’t delight in the gruesomeness of oppression and assault; the facts were laid out clearly, and in a serious manner, but the focus of the book was very much the criticism of society and the way things can be improved. There are no graphic scenes. The hopelessness of the situation is highlighted, and then hope is slowly brought forth to both characters and readers as the story unfolds. It was a joy to read.
I also really enjoyed the world building – it was subtle because, as I said, the story is set in a world like ours in terms of history and technology, but there are differences in the politics and social structures that result from the fact that women are marked with the future. For example, before each chapter is an extract of the government mandated book Mapping the Future (as shown below), in which girls are taught how to read their markings, how to deal with the changeling period, how to deal with the aftermath of being taken, and other information. There are also mentions of other countries and the ways in which women’s rights differ from place to place – in some places, for example, women who are marked as homemakers will be denied education, with the argument that they will not need it. Celeste also tells us that in the past women’s positions were affected much more by the markings on their skin, and that still today to work or study they must disclose their government file which holds all their markings.
I will not go into details of the plot, because as ever the joy is in the reading, but I will say that the overarching narrative, while it does hold some tension and mystery, is quite straightforward and at times predictable, and I don’t mean this in a negative way at all. The fact that all the events follow a fairly logical sequence means that the story can focus much more on what it’s trying to say in terms of its commentary on society, and its emboldening of women and the incredible potential that they hold for changing the world around them with their love and care.
Overall, such an exquisitely written novel, in which fiction and reality blur and are mixed together with a touch of myth. I highly recommend it to anyone – I picked it up thinking it was more grounded in fantasy that it was, but loved it regardless, and any fan of literary fiction will find that this will easily slot into the classics of the genre.
“We spend too much time either imagining the future, the vast expanse of unborn possibility, or else wandering the past, the land of the dead. And yet I return there, again and again, as if watching it unfold in my memory can affect the outcome. As if the past could ever be as changeable as the future.”