4.5 out of 5 stars
A young adult space western historical epic that has Broadway show tunes ringing in my head? Vive la revolution!
Now THIS is the kind of reimagining I want! It’s (quite) loosely based on Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, set many years after Earth has been destroyed and humanity has colonized a group of 12 terraformed planets known as the System Divine.
Here we are on the planet of Laterre, in the capital of Vallonay. It’s an outer space faux-Paris, a lot like the 1815 Paris of the Les Miserables book and play, except with droids, cyborgs, and interplanetary travel. The rich are très riche: the Patriarche and his family rule all and are known as the First Estate. In lieu of nobility and courtiers, the Second Estate are the riche who make the planet run. Then the Third Estate, in the planet’s proverbial steerage: the workers, the dregs, the starving, huddled masses yearning to be free. (I mix metaphor in honor of the French-made State of Liberty.)
Our Marius is high-born: Marcellus is grandson to and destined to replace the planet’s military leader. He’s straight as an arrow, law-and-order-loving drone. Until he meets Chitin. Et voila, our sort-of-Eponine. She’s a street smart thief with a plan to steal her way off this planet. Marcellus becomes an unwitting means to that end, though they share a strange and confusing personal connection. Until our Cosette takes the stage: Bonjour, Alouette. She has lived underground and protected by a secret society for 12 years. With her father. Who has a hidden criminal past. Ringing any bells?
I think of this series in two ways. First: A treasure hunt. There are a ton of delightful Les Miz Easter eggs to discover. Brody and Rendell changed the story significantly, and not just by adding technology. (The Bastille is the moon, you guys!) Yet they wove beloved moments from and references to Les Miz throughout. We have masters of the house and little falls of rain, and not a single one is forced. You could easily miss them, or not know them at all, and enjoy this top notch story just as well. System Divine doesn’t rip off Les Miz, it jumps off from that starting point and goes well beyond. But those little gems are waiting, sparkling, all the way through three long books.
Secondly, I think of this series like any other: a story. And it’s a great one. It’s scope is massive, creative, transporting. The plot is intricately woven but never confusing, as many longer series can be. It does a lot, but not too much. By the end I still cared about every single storyline coming together, every character I’d met. So many series drag endlessly in the last quarter. Even those with great endings can struggle to reach them, but not System Divine. I was completely in it to the last page. (Actually, I was looking at the few pages left wondering how they’d get it all done!) Read The System Divine trilogy. I loved it.
And now to blast the PBS live performance recording with whichever Jonas Brother that is as Marius, an teach my dogs to storm a couch cushion barricade.