I picked up The Stars, Like Dust by Isaac Asimov on a whim, as it was one of the few Asimov books the library had at the moment and I needed something to read. I didn’t realize it was an adventure/mystery set in space, nor that it was written as well as it was. The mystery had multiple layers (as all good tales must) and had a very intriguing plot along the way. It wasn’t until I researched the book afterwards that I realized it was the earliest book in the Galactic Empire trilogy and the second one written (which means I have two more books to read).
I’d recommend trying to solve the mystery as you’re reading because it doesn’t involve any complex science and it’s well thought out enough that it’s a worthy challenge. The characters all have different motives, there’s more than just one mystery at work, and it all comes together beautifully by the end. Overall, I’d give it a 9 out of 10, earning high marks in plot, characters, world building, and mystery but losing a little bit from how the characters interacted and a slightly off-beat end (I’ll cover more of that later). It left me wanting more, so I’m eagerly diving into the rest of the trilogy.
I loved how the first chapter was written, as it quickly grabbed my attention, gave me a small but deadly mystery, only to launch into a cosmic battle full of assassination and a plan to overthrow galactic rule. Biron is saved by Jonti, told of the imminent danger, and sent away for safety. Throughout all of this we get pieces of how there’s another layer to what’s going on, something about a way to escape the tyrannical rein of the (gasp) Tyranni, and that Jonti is planning something big though his motives are unclear. Further, we find out that a member of the Tyranni, Simok Aratap, is aware of most of what’s going on which adds an element of danger. Interestingly, Biron makes it through his trip unscathed and follows Jonti’s plan when he reaches Rhodia, where we quickly learn about the three main players on the planet and each of their plans.
These first 80 pages are all so tied up in different people, assassination attempts, multiple plans, and a huge conspiracy that I sympathized with Biron as I was tossed into the middle of it just like him. Despite this, he still has his wits about him and quickly sees why he was moved on the ship, and that there’s something important about his watch. We’re given a lot to hear and play with, all delivered at a quick pace and while there isn’t as much plot development as I’d like, we do get a sense of how controlled everything is (though by Jonti or Aratap we don’t know). Then on reaching Rhodia, three more people enter the fray, all with their own plans, thus complicating the whole endeavour. Who killed the Rancher of Widemos? Who is really controlling the situation? What was Biron looking for? And most of all, what’s the next move?
The entirety of this first third is well delivered, though I did feel a little overwhelmed at this point. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, but I quickly lost sight of all the different things going on and how they fit together, mainly because I was so eager to read more. I’d highly suggest pausing for a moment and reflecting on everything you’ve discovered so far because this mystery can withstand scrutiny. Every time something seems a little off, there is a reason for it and it will be answered in this book, so take your time. We’re already a third done, and though we have yet to solve any of the mysteries, answers will start coming soon.
The titles of all of these chapters are beautifully tongue-in-cheek. Each time you think the story will go one way, the title says otherwise without giving too much away, and you’re left to enjoy how “An Overlord’s Trousers” are securely fastened. Then there’s the matter of how Gilbert has been listening in on the Tyranni, how Aratap seems to be in control, and how Jonti still sounds like he has most everything planned. Having the three groups working against each other, yet wondering if they are or not, is thrilling. Then we’re told of a resistance planet that no one knows about, and things get really crazy.
It’s at this point we hit the halfway mark of the book and it starts to fall back in on itself. We see how Biron’s father starts fits into the resistance, meet a powerful leader of a planet who turns out to be Jonti in disguise, and then hear about Rizzett who is the only named assistant to Jonti. And then it starts to unravel, as so much snaps apart and falls into place. It was only here after Biron’s revelation about Jonti that I really started to savour the story. The rebellion world was at hand and everyone should go so that the meeting would be a success. Finally, we get the murder of the Rancher of Widemos tossed at Artemisia’s feet and we’re left with a lot of drama and a new plot line to follow into the final third.
And what a conclusion it is! Not only are we given the answer to a mystery we didn’t know existed, but we learn just how much the Autarch had planned and that Biron had again outsmarted everyone else. At least for a time. Quickly they get surrounded on the planet and Aratap comes out victorious, revealing how Gilbert is really delusional for the most part and yet still knows about the rebellion world that no one has yet found. With one planet left, he even sabotages everything to protect the world, only to be stopped by Biron. It’s here again that you should pause and try to piece everything together before reading on, for there’s another brilliant reveal coming up.
With that mystery solved, we turn to the paper Biron was searching for, and here I will announce the final twist: it’s the US Constitution. In essence, the Tyranni can be overthrown by a properly organized democracy, and the US as envisioned by its founders is the perfect way to doing so. There’s some truth in that as the settlers escaped the rule of the monarchy, but the Constitution served as a way to unite the states after the war had been fought, not a call to arms to overthrow the empire that held them.
Despite my feelings about the ending, I’m still very excited about the next book in the series as I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Time to exit the nebula; onto the rebellion world!