Book Review: THE CRUEL STARS by John Birmingham

I received a review copy from Head of Zeus Publishers in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinions.

The Cruel Stars.png
Genre: Sci-Fi
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 4 stars
Series: yes - first book in trilogy


the cruel stars

The galaxy was once terrorized by the Sturm, a group of “species purists” intent on destroying any human with genetic or cybernetic enhancements. Fashioning themselves as the one true “Human Republic,” the Sturm cut a bloody swath across the stars, killing billions before finally being defeated and driven into the far reaches of Dark Space. Centuries of peace bred complacency. Everyone believed the Sturm had died out in the Dark. They were wrong.

The enemy has returned and, with a brutal and decisive attack, knocks out almost all of humanity’s defenses. Now on the brink of annihilation, humankind’s only hope is a few brave souls who survived the initial attack: Commander Lucinda Hardy, thrust into uncertain command of the Royal Armadalen Navy’s only surviving warship. Booker3, a soldier of Earth, sentenced to die for treason, whose time on death row is cut short when the Sturm attack his prison compound. Princess Alessia, a young royal of the Montanblanc Corporation, forced to flee when her home planet is overrun and her entire family executed. Sephina L’trel, the leader of an outlaw band who must call on all of her criminal skills to resist the invasion. And, finally, Admiral Frazer McLennan, the infamous hero of the first war with the Sturm hundreds of years ago, who hopes to rout his old foes once and for all–or die trying.

These five flawed, reluctant heroes must band together to prevail against a relentless enemy and near-impossible odds. For if they fail, the future itself is doomed.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.



I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed with book. I’ve struggled with sci-fi for years, because it’s hard to turn the science part of my brain off. However, I flew this book on Christmas day (all ~500 pages) because the pacing was superb.

There are 5 POVs, and the end of their chapters are minor cliffhangers (but not irritating ones!) which meant I wanted to keep reading to find out what happened to each of them. At first, they’re all separate, before the Sturm’s attack links them and then they meet up in real life. Because of this, they didn’t feel like disparate stories, but part of a cohesive narrative.

My favourite POV was McLennan’s, because the old Scot is laugh-out-loud funny with his cranky ways and total disregard for appearance (naked on the bridge of a starship? Who cares when there’s a war going on). He and his artificial intelligence friend Hero steal every scene they’re in with their snippy banter.

Science-wise, I have no idea how accurate it was, but I found I wasn’t bothered, wasn’t trying to work out if the space-folding travel thingy was plausible. The world did take me a bit of time to get into, because I had to puzzle out the futuristic space military and planet alliances and corporate empires. However, I think that was mostly because I’m not used to the genre, and it got much easier the further into the book I got.

The baddies’ initial is brilliant – brutal and gory, but brilliant. It made them a real enemy in need of fighting off.

Read my reviews of other books by John Birmingham:

The Cruel Stars (this series):

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