I read the first novel in this duology, Starflight, a few months ago and absolutely loved it. Did I have some misgivings about the beginning and how the characters got into each others' presence? Yes. Yes I did. And I brought them up in my review. But overall, I thought Starflight was a lovely young adult sci-fi romance with a slow burn and a feel that would appeal to those who liked Firefly and Serenity, though Landers' book didn't purport itself to be a substitute for either. So I had high hopes for Starfall.
Unfortunately, it didn't live up to them. While there aren't any big, glaring flaws in Starfall, it lacks the magic and pop and sparkle of its predecessor.
The main characters here are Cassia and Kane, two of the shipmates whom we met in Starflight. Cassia is, of course, a secret princess--as is the way things go. She fled an arranged marriage on her home world and seems to have started a war into the bargain, and she's been fleeing from bounty hunters called the Daeva ever since--as has Kane, because he helped her escape. Cassia and Kane are very close, sort of friends-with-benefits sometimes but without the full array of benefits (Landers makes a point of saying that they've never "gone all the way" several times) but their relationship is also fraught with friction because Cassia doesn't really know what she wants. But when the Daeva get Cassia and haul her back to her home world, she's thrown into the position of becoming a monarch, stopping a war, and putting down a rebellion, all at once, and even when Kane shows up to rescue her--though rescue doesn't end up being needed--it seems like she doesn't have time to pursue any sort of relationship anymore. And then a mysterious illness starts taking down her people, and she can't figure out how to stop it...
The problem with this book is, I think, that it ultimately got too big for itself. Starflight had a relatively small and narrow plot, though there was a sideplot that was a bit more expansive. In Starfall, the big plot--Cassia's political situation and attempts to help her people--are center stage, and the developing and re-developing relationship with Kane is secondary. The other characters from the cargo ship Banshee also feature much less here than they did in the first book, which was disappointing because the crew was such an integral part of the story, and how their personalities and experiences meshed really contributed to the excellent feel the first book had. That's largely lacking here, and while the crew does appear, they're supplemented by a variety of other side characters that aren't given much time to develop and so only have superficial personalities, backgrounds, and motivations. The book also doesn't really feel like a romance at all, even though Cassia and Kane's re-connection is supposed to be such a big part. Instead, the story mainly consists of them running from place to place trying to solve the mystery of who is wreaking havoc on their home world, and then there's some half-concocted thing about gladiator battles at the end. Yes. Seriously. All of this also contributes to a very weird sort of pacing that was inconsistent and didn't add to the book in any way.
Overall, I didn't feel like this added to the Starflight experience at all. Starflight was shiny and brilliant and developed a rich universe with potential just waiting to be discovered. Starfall didn't do any of that, and instead threw much of what made the first book brilliant to the side in favor of a big political plot that dragged. Continuing with this exact plot but keeping Solara and Doran was the main characters actually probably would have worked better than elevating Kane and Cassia to the starring positions; just that change of perspective would have done worlds for improving this book. As it is, it's okay, but I can't say it's any better than that.
2 stars out of 5.