It's easy to read Michael Moreci's debut novel "Black Star Renegades" and compare it to "Star Wars." After all, the story was inspired by that epic saga. But to characterize it as a retelling or a ripoff wouldn't do justice to this complex, self-aware and fun romp through space.
"Black Star Renegades"' main character, Cade Sura, is no Luke Skywalker. Cade has spent his life playing second fiddle to his brother Tristan, who is basically the perfect hero to undertake an epic journey. He's well-liked and talented, a born leader. But Cade doesn't resent Tristan; he's happy enough in his brother's shadow as a member of the Rai, a group of peacekeepers who keep themselves removed from the politics of the galaxy.
It means that the Rai didn't get involved when Ga Halle began to take over the galaxy. Now the tyrannical Praxis Empire has built a powerful weapon — one with the ability to drain a star — and has used it to punish planets that don't wholeheartedly support Praxis rule. It's rumored that an ancient legendary weapon called the Rokura may have the power to stop them, but only the Paragon can wield it (think King Arthur and the sword in the stone). Everyone, including Cade, thinks Tristan is the person who will save the galaxy.
This is really where "Black Star Renegades" gets interesting. We have a person who clearly is destined for greatness. It's in the very bones of his character. Tristan is everything that readers usually demand in a hero, which is why it's so interesting that he's not the main character in this story.
An act of chance leads Cade, not Tristan, to wield the ancient weapon. To all observers, he is the Paragon. There's just one problem: Cade isn't able to use the weapon because he's not the Paragon, even if everyone thinks he is.
What do you do when the galaxy thinks you're their savior, but you know in your heart that you are not the chosen one? It's a fascinating conundrum, and one that Moreci explores in detail in this novel. It's not just impostor syndrome, though that certainly plays into it. After all, he's been told by everyone that he's inferior to his brother. Of course Cade would internalize that criticism.
But it's more than just self-doubt, which is where this story sets itself apart from its inspiration. Cade can believe in himself all he wants; it doesn't change the fact that the sword didn't pick him. How, then, does he balance being what everyone else needs him to be with the painful knowledge that he can never measure up? Is the symbol more important than what he can actually do? It's certainly a thought-provoking story line.
Moreci, a comic book writer and creator, balances character with plot very well; the story moves at a brisk pace, and the frequent action sequences fit in well with the overall story. Too often, I skim heavily over action because the scenes just don't draw me in. But in this novel I was on the edge of my seat, as the vivid detail helped me picture exactly what was happening. The secondary characters are also well drawn. Readers will instantly take to Kira and the rest of the motley crew that Cade assembles in his quest to figure out how to take down Praxis.
The bottom line is that "Black Star Renegades" doesn't have the most original of inspirations, but it's worth reading for its execution. It takes the hero myth, which was first outlined by Joseph Campbell, and turns it inside out with a flawed character with no real sense of destiny. In particular, the treatment of the Rokura weapon is fascinating. As the novel progresses, there are questions about whether Cade should even want to possess it. It's less the Force than it is the One Ring, with a will of its own, and it brings up important questions about how to use the power you have.
Krishna writes for Paste Magazine and Syfy Wire and is half of the podcast Desi Geek Girls.