Review of The Actual Star

A mysterious cave in Belize is the heart of this novel. In 1012, the last monarchs of the ancient Maya are preparing for the sacrificial ball game. In 2012, Leah Oliveri travels to Belize to rediscover her roots. And in 3012, two competing factions of a religion born from climate chaos travel to Belize to see which of their visions should prevail.

My mind was blown by this book. It is incredibly original and unique; it also has nods to CS Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Ursula K Le Guin’s The Tombs of Atuan, and Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt (one of my favourite novels of all time).

The experience of getting lost in the cave, and the atmosphere of the sequences set in 1012, is very like the creepy and airless feeling you get from reading The Tombs of Atuan. The theme of warring twins is also really interesting and primal.

The different eras are very cleverly woven together, and you can see how experiences and conversations in earlier eras are woven into the religion of Laviaja and become important in it.

The religion of Laviaja is also very plausible and cohesive, and you can see why it would become compelling to large groups of people. It also contains some really interesting ideas, particularly the psychogeographical concepts that get woven into it. These include the god of the place (the sum total of all the experiences, energies, and physical characteristics of a place). And I love the idea of the pista (an individual’s trajectory as they travel around). Emerging from these two concepts is a third concept, that of asking the god of the place if you’ve been there in a previous life.

I did wonder, if there are not very many sedentary people, how all the advanced tech gets made in 3012, but perhaps they have automated production or something. The tech is really cool though.

I was also reminded of that quote from Ursula Le Guin about how, for people who lived when the divine right of kings was a generally accepted view, that seemed inevitable, just as capitalism seems inevitable to us, but in the future it could become as incomprehensible as the divine right of kings is to us. This book seems like an extended meditation on that thought, as the people of 3012 look upon the era of capitalism as a completely sick and depraved age (which of course it is), and they see Laviaja as normal, natural, and inevitable, but to us it seems weird and exotic.

Highly recommended. This is such an original book and deserves to win a bunch of awards. The three storylines weave together in a really interesting way and it’s gripping.

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  1. Pingback: Books I read in July 2022 | Dowsing for Divinity

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