Honestly, I’m a little baffled by the high rating that Second Star by J. M. Sullivan has thus far. While it is a novel with a very promising premise, that of a Peter Pan retelling set in space with a nanobot as Tinkerbell and Wendy as a space Captain, everything about it fell incredibly short of that potential, so much so that I can only recall wishing that someone with better writing skills and less problematic racism had written this book. I find it quite devastating that the premise left me incredibly excited for a book that simply did not live up to its potential. After all, Peter Pan in space sounds like something that could become an incredibly amazing novel. Unfortunately for Sullivan, Second Star was not amazing.
There are a number of places in this novel where the author failed to deliver, from character development to general plot the novel as a whole was poorly researched and poorly executed. There are a number of areas where the author would have benefitted greatly from doing just a little more research. It becomes immediately clear that Sullivan has very little concept of what space travel is like and seems to have merely gotten all of her information from various science fiction television shows she may have watched. A rudimentary understanding of technology is also incredibly obvious throughout the novel. For someone who is writing a Peter Pan retelling involving space travel and advanced technology, Sullivan does little to convince me that she has any understanding of these areas of knowledge. It’s all surface level and barring TINC, the nanobot Tinkerbell substitute, none of the technology really feels cutting edge or advanced. All in all, the aspects I was most excited to read in this book were minimal and disappointing.
The time spent in space is also incredibly short, leaving me feeling somewhat mislead by the premise. Instead of fighting pirates in space, both spaceships are subjected to malfunctions and end up crash landing on a tropical island planet. To make matters worse, Sullivan relied on the dated and very racist animated Disney film to draw inspiration for her depiction of the native peoples, referred to as stjarnins, living on the island. Not only does she make them greened skinned, but she describes them as primitive, unintelligent, and uncivilized. And though these descriptions, alongside the word “savage” are given by the villain of the story, Sullivan does nothing in her writing of these characters to refute the claims. The native people are written to sacrifice their own people to the shadow of the island, fearing it greatly enough to believe that keeping this shadow “full” will keep its wrath at bay. And, of course, once they realize others are on the island they take efforts to sacrifice them instead of their own people. Ironically, despite supposedly having been living on the island for more than a hundred years, this sacrificing of the newcomers only happens just before Wendy arrives.
And, of course, none of the characters have any real development. Whether it begins with their motivations, their decision making, or even just their relationships with the other characters around them I was left feeling as though I was reading personalities that were given only the barest thought when created. The purpose behind Hooke’s betrayal was incredibly simplistic which therefore lead to Peter’s actions becoming laughable, if only because it seemed that something was pulled from thin air in order to justify them. I never really felt as though I got to know the secondary characters and many were caricatures of their counterparts from the source material. What I did learn of them was incredibly minimal and resulted in me finding the relationships they had with each other unbelievable. The insta-love was beyond ridiculous, peppered with annoying focus on each others’ appearances and the second love interest came out of nowhere, from a character so deeply unlikable that I felt horribly disgusted during the entire scene.
As for general writing, there aren’t any terrible or glaring moments where I felt it was severely lacking. Perhaps my biggest gripe with it all is the sheer number of eye-roll inducing times Sullivan literally pulled quotes from Barrie’s story. It became completely laughable the moment I came across the “never say goodbye” piece, a quote generally referenced as Barrie’s from Peter Pan but was never actually something he had ever written. This is only further proof of how heavily Sullivan relied on the source material rather than actually researching and writing her own story. Overall, Sullivan’s retelling is seriously lacking in fundamental, preliminary research, any form of real character or relationship development, and ultimately just seems to be a skeleton of what a well-written novel could be.
I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.