The Actual Star: A Novel (Paperback)
David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas meets Octavia Butler’s Earthseed series, as acclaimed author Monica Byrne (The Girl in the Road) crafts an unforgettable piece of speculative fiction about where humanity came from, where we are now, and where we’re going—and how, in every age, the same forces that drive us apart also bind us together.
"A stone-cold masterpiece."—New Scientist
The Actual Star takes readers on a journey over two millennia and six continents—telling three powerful tales a thousand years apart, all of them converging in the same cave in the Belizean jungle.
Braided together are the stories of a pair of teenage twins who ascend the throne of a Maya kingdom; a young American woman on a trip of self-discovery in Belize; and two dangerous charismatics vying for the leadership of a new religion, racing toward a confrontation that will determine the fate of the few humans left on Earth after massive climate change.
In each era, a reincarnated trinity of souls navigates the entanglements of tradition and progress, sister and stranger, and love and hate—until all of their age-old questions about the nature of existence converge deep underground, where only in complete darkness can they truly see.
Monica Byrne studied biochemistry at Wellesley, NASA, and MIT before pivoting to fiction and theater. She is the author of the novel The Girl in the Road, winner of the 2014 Otherwise Award, and loves a good thunderstorm.
"Breathtaking in scope and ambition. With Byrne as your assured guide, The Actual Star offers so much to discover from the first read, and invites returning to over and over." — John Scalzi, New York Times bestselling author of the Interdependency Trilogy
"When a book is this ambitious, either it is a thumping success or it falls on its face. Happily, The Actual Star is a stone-cold masterpiece. It is one of the most moving novels I have read and surely a contender for major awards." — New Scientist
“An indescribable epic saga of three reincarnated souls from the author of The Girl in the Road. . . The Actual Star is for those who love complexities and questions that transcend single lives.” — The Millions
"A fascinating and intricately woven piece of speculative fiction...Byrne’s work delves into themes about entropy, destiny, how place affects us as we change the world, and the search for meaning. But it is also a thoroughly human work where ambition, loneliness, love, and the need to belong resonate, no matter the year. Complex and captivating." — Booklist
"The Actual Star is a book about sacrifice, about the long view and deep time, about the universality of human experience and the particularity of any given moment. It's a first-rate work of sf, and a hopeful and fearful book about the climate. It's just great."
— Cory Doctorow, author of Radicalized and Walkaway
“Contained in this book is a vivid historical novel, a heartfelt contemporary narrative, and a mind-boggling science fiction story, all tightly braided together into a single experience that is bold, wild, profound. It's a novel you won’t forget.” — Kim Stanley Robinson, author of The Ministry for the Future
“Sweeping, mesmerizing, The Actual Star is a travelogue of souls, an epic that leaps lightly between the centuries. From the royal children of an ancient Mayan dynasty to the nomadic pilgrims of a far-future religion, Byrne draws her interconnected characters with compassion and depth, weaving their stories into a mystery with echoes in past, present, and future. At the center of it all is Leah, a young American woman whose search for her roots in Belize will have repercussions far beyond her lifetime. A magnificent achievement!” — Helene Wecker, author of The Golem and Jinni and The Hidden Palace
"The Actual Star is a speculative fiction masterpiece" — Fantasy Hive
“Beautifully rendered . . . moving . . . a terrific novel.” — Locus
"The Actual Star is a boldly daring examination of what it means to be human from a non-traditional perspective, one focused away from the Western-European colonialist lens and zeroed in on a culture many think lost to the sands of time, but that still exists very much to this day." — Lightspeed Magazine
"The Actual Star is a stunningly realized work of literary fiction. Byrne blends elements of speculative and historical fiction to create a trio of timelines, each a thousand years apart, the individual stories serving to illustrate a fundamental truth of narrative power.... Flexible and fluid, these tales grow and evolve until they are both of us and not of us...The Actual Star is unlike anything I’ve read. It is immersive and idiosyncratic and without a doubt one of the best books I’ve read in quite some time." — The Maine Edge