Review: Steal the Stars by Nat Cassidy


The adaptation of popular podcast Steal the Stars features a strong heroine and an original premise, but its ending may leave you feeling cold.

Steal the Stars is an interesting sort of novel. Perhaps novelization is the best term, because its story is based on a popular podcast of the same name. Full disclosure: Yours truly has never listened to this podcast, so I can’t actually tell you how much of the story directly copies the audio version. From the reviews I’ve read of the Steal the Stars podcast, it feels pretty similar, but one has to assume the novel’s fleshed out a few pieces here and there.

Though, honestly, you don’t need to know about the book’s podcast background to enjoy it. Steal the Stars functions perfectly well on its own, telling a gripping, standalone story that will keep you interested right up until the end. The story’s ending is going to disappoint some people, while thrilling others with its willingness to upend readers’ expectations.

The story follows a tortured ex-Army Ranger named Dakota Prentiss (“Dak”, for short). She works for a vaguely shady company called Quill Marine. They’re hiding a pretty big secret at their research base — a seven-foot tall, possibly dead alien nicked named “Moss” who crashed landed on Earth eleven years prior. As her feelings grow for new coworker Matt Salem, Dak must make a series of complicated choices that lead to them attempting the impossible: Stealing an alien.

The story’s premise is super interesting

The premise behind Steal the Stars is pretty great. In fact, it’s the kind of science fiction story where, if you squint, you can easily see it playing out in our real world. After all, in our current political and cultural environment it’s unlikely that anyone would be shocked by the revelation that some semi-shady corporation was secretly keeping an alien in its basement. (Or secret ocean-side research facility. Whatever.) We definitely wouldn’t be surprised to find out that company considered weaponizing the creature or its advanced technology to make money. Yeah, there’s a flying saucer, an extraterrestrial creature and some damaging alien technology here. But it’s certainly not a story happening in a galaxy far, far away.

One of the most interesting bits of Steal the Stars is how much time Nat Cassidy — and presumably podcast creator Mac Rogers — spend building out the story’s world. The hierarchy of Quill Marine — from guards to scientists to the folks who administer lie detector tests to everyone who enters their building — is thoughtfully put together and meticulously laid out. We spend a lot of time with these secondary characters, which means that it matters when one of them betrays a coworker or basically has their mind wiped by the strange alien artifact no one really knows how to control.

The actual sci-fi stuff is equally engrossing. Alien “Moss” and the mystery of the actual moss growing — or, more importantly, receding — on his body, as well as the question of whether he is alive or not largely happens in the background of the rest of the story. But it’s so interesting, you’ll wish it got a more direct focus. Why? Steal the Stars stalls out a little bit when it switches from the immediate story of Quill Marine and its extraterrestrial secret to the heist saga that is Dak and Matt trying to steal the alien and sell it to secure their own freedom.

A complex heroine but a less than compelling love story

Dak and Matt’s relationship is presented as a sweeping, forbidden love story. This is, technically, true. The company they work for has an extremely draconian no fraternization policy. Which means they’ll not only lose their jobs at the base if they’re discovered, they’ll be shipped off to work in much less hospitable circumstances. (Not sure why they wouldn’t just get straight up fired with an NDA, but I guess protecting the secret of extraterrestrial life is complicated.) Anyway, knowing all this, Dak tries her best to resist her growing feelings for Matt. But as you can probably guess from the blurb on the back of the cover, that doesn’t work.

The problem with Steal the Stars is that the story doesn’t really give us a lot of reasons to want Dak and Matt together. Nor does it necessarily explain why they’re so desperate to be with one another. (Certainly not desperate enough that they’d commit what is basically treason, in the end.) This problem is closely tied to the fact that Matt doesn’t get much characterization. Sure, he seems like a generally nice guy. And he’s apparently very easy on the eyes. But other than the fact that he’s hot and nice, he doesn’t get much of a POV here. (Or, at least, not until the very end.)

The story does better with Dak, who finds herself alternately lonely, depressed, angry and lost over the course of the novel. She’s an easy heroine to like, because her emotional headspace is so relatable. (Okay, maybe not the fighting people in bars thing.) It’s obvious why she’s the sort of person who’s looking for someone to fall in love with. Her life as part of Quill Marine is unsatisfying and stifling, and in many ways she’s as trapped as Moss is. That she chooses Matt feels simultaneously inevitable and kind of random, but the rules of attraction work in mysterious ways. You end up rooting for these two crazy kids not because you particularly like them as a couple, but because Dak is a person who deserves the chance to be happy.

At the same time, Dak’s decision to steal Moss and his alien technology, basically committing treason by selling them to the highest international bidder so that she can run away with her boyfriend of what appears to be maybe two months is … problematic at best. Dak is a complicated character, which is what makes her interesting. But it also makes her hard to like at times.

The novel’s ending is … kind of controversial.

It’s difficult to talk about the ending of Steal the Stars without giving away too much. Now, maybe you already know what happens, because you’re familiar with the podcast. But I wasn’t, and I was genuinely shocked by how this story wrapped up. More than that, I was pretty angry at several points. Well, sort of. It’s hard to explain. Let’s just say certainly wasn’t the ending to this story I expected. You’ll probably experience some complicated feelings about it. There will be plenty of readers who strongly dislike or flat out can’t believe this is how the story ends. In all honesty, I’m still wrestling with how I feel about it too. Let me put it this way: I respect it, even if I don’t think that I like it.

The novel’s conclusion is surprising and strange, and almost entirely unexpected. There’s a certain element of forcible shock to it — as though the author wanted to do something that blew up previous elements of the story. In the novel’s final section, relationships shift, new characters appear and motivations aren’t what we quite thought they were. Some of that is good. A sudden reversal in the story’s final segment certainly adds more interesting layers to Dak, Matt and their relationship. So much so that you may wish the story addressed any of the issues raised here several chapters earlier.

Sadly, Steal the Stars’ ending doesn’t exactly provide much in the way of resolution. Things just kind of happen, and then … the story stops. It’s also completely unclear where things in this universe go from this point. Literally, what happens after that? The novel’s final moments move very far from the rest of the novel, and then everything just sort of … stops. It’s not exactly a cliffhanger, per se. But the novel leaves things in such a place where it’s difficult not to wonder what happens next.  (Maybe the podcast originally planned a sequel? I’m just spitballing here.)

Steal the Stars is worth reading, if only for its exceptionally interesting premise and its colorful lead character Dak Prentiss. The ending — and the romance that prompts it — may leave you wanting something more. But up until that point it’s a pretty entertaining ride.

Next: Book-Thirsty Thursday: The Empress, S.J. Kincaid

Steal the Stars is currently available at all local bookstores or online.