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Publisher's Summary

David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas meets Octavia Butler's Earthseed series, as acclaimed author Monica Byrne (The Girl in the Road) spins a brilliant multigenerational saga spanning two thousand years, from the collapse of the ancient Maya to a far-future utopia on the brink of civil war.

The Actual Star takes listeners on a journey over thousands of years and six continents—collapsing three separate timelines into one cave in the Belizean jungle.

An epic saga of three reincarnated souls, this novel demonstrates the entanglements of tradition and progress, sister and stranger, love and hate. The book jumps forward and backward in time among a pair of twins who ruled a Maya kingdom, a young American on a trip of self-discovery, and two dangerous charismatics in a conflict that will determine the fate of the few humans left on Earth after massive climate change.

In each era, age-old questions about existence and belonging and identity converge deep underground. Because only in complete darkness can one truly see the stars.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2021 Monica Byrne (P)2021 HarperCollins Publishers

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What listeners say about The Actual Star

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Maybe the best 2012 story

Sometimes I find a book that is so thoroughly researched and logical that it comes across almost as history, the latest book to add to that list is The Actual Star.

It's a novel that takes place in 3 times based on the Mayan long count calendar, 1000 years a part, the middle portion taking place in 2012, the early part takes place 1012 and marks the collapse of the Mayan civilization and the last part takes place in 3012 well conceived probable future sort of utopia from the viewpoint of one.  That's just the basic framework that encompasses a believable tale of reincarnation, a history of Mayan culture and a story that shouldn't be believable as it is.  This book might take my brain a couple of days to unravel after finishing but if you're looking for something totally unique in flavor and mindset, I totally recommend this.

7 people found this helpful

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Too much detailed description of self-cutting

I set this book aside because the cutting made me squeamish. Since the second lifetime also featured cutting, I'm going to make a guess that the third lifetime will also feature cutting so we can identify that it's the same being. After setting this book aside, I've gone to other books. It's become apparent that I won't go back to this book. The rave reviews were the reason I bought this book, and I feel like I'm missing out. But just from this one book I've learned far more about the cutting experience than I wanted to know and definitely don't want to learn any more. I can't erase what I learned about cutting from my mind now. It's horrible. Detailed horrific self-mutilation scenes aren't entertaining for me and not what I want to spend my time and money on. Hope I can return this book.

6 people found this helpful

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Speculative fiction enters a whole new dimension

What this book accomplishes in three separate storylines across 2,000 years is mind blowing. The connectivity of the separate stories is electric, the narrative swims tantalizingly close, like the stories will arc, but they stay true to their pathways. Speculative fiction is rich even without such a solid historical foundation, in layering a world 1,000 years from now on the archeological backbone of what we know of the ancient Maya and the reckless abandon of Capitalism and Populism in the here and now, the author has built an entirely plausible future for humans and the planet and their relationship to it. I would’ve read each of these as a separate book bit together they take speculative fiction to a whole new dimension.

4 people found this helpful

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Meaningful Topics, Respectfully Discussed

The Actual Star was a painful balance of wanting to hear more, but really not wanting it to end.

I've read a few reviews that use the word "cringe", in relation to the environmental topics and the frank discussion of sex, and gender. I would agree that if sex is a topic you don't enjoy reading about, passages might be uncomfortable. However, there was nothing "cringe" about this. The author's voice for describing sex changed according to the character's perspective in a wholly appropriate way. I found the author's approach on gender to be intriguing, and thoughtfully created (but _do_ keep your glossary handy).
The handling of the topic of the foreign gaze, and the tendency to fetishize the "exotic" was beautifully done, with a light hand.

Moving past the book itself, the narration was delightful. The use of three narrators to track with the different time periods made listening easy, and kept the timelines well structured. It was also incredibly refreshing to hear voices that could beautifully speak the patois of the various regions. Bravo!

My only disappointment was the length of the book. I could have happily stayed with these characters for twice the time.

3 people found this helpful

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Five Hours In - I’m Done

I was very excited for this book - the review was wonderful - Octavia Butler!! David Mitchell!!! But no … The droning on and on just made no sense to me. I understand the sociological, psychological, and anthropological questions posed by this work, and find them interesting, but I cannot get invested in these characters - they are flat and unyielding, so unbelievable. Such a same!

3 people found this helpful

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A Masterpiece

I don't have enough words for how impressed I am by this book. The author interweaves three epochs - a Mayan past, a contemporary present set in 2012, and a far future in 3012. Every voice, every character, every detail was so distinct. The world-building of the future was wonderfully done. I wish I could sit down with someone and talk it all through because there was so much to absorb and enjoy. It was a little hard to get into the future sequences at the start because there is a heavy mix of Spanish - which I don't know - and made-up words, which I think all would be easier to understand in print. I let that wash past me and over time I picked up more. I was so glad I didn't let that stop me because the world she envisions offers so much to consider. I marvel at the author's creativity. I'll definitely be re-reading in print so I can pick up what I missed in the audio version and savor all the details. The narrators are fantastic. They each have to voice multiple parts and do it expertly. There's a lot of humor in the book and the narration let that come through in ways I really appreciated. I will say that the book comes with a trigger warning about cutting. There are entire hours of narration where cutting isn't an issue, or at most a passing reference, but there are some scenes that could be upsetting. I had a couple of moments where I had to jump ahead 15 or 30 seconds because it was too much for me to listen, but that was enough. It was the same as though maybe in a written book, there might be a couple of pages a reader has to skim due to personal squeamishness.

Another comment - I think this book is categorized as science fiction, but people who don't usually like science fiction shouldn't let that discourage them. The science fiction element is just the vision of what the future could be. Really the book is a literary masterwork on humanity, spirituality, and the ties that bind us. I hope this review encourages someone to read the book! It truly is extraordinary.

3 people found this helpful

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Fantastic

The story is so strange and yet fairly easy to follow. I read a review before I preordered this that described it as where Cloud Atlas and Parable of the Sower meet. I can definitely see those elements but it’s not doing this book justice. I really enjoyed the world of the uninhibited teen girl, we are given so much room to get to know her and appreciate her. I also enjoyed the detail given in going through the “routine” of the cave tours in Belize. I would have loved more detail about how the future timeline operates but maybe it was just enough information. In conclusion, highly recommended!

2 people found this helpful

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The Arc of Religion, mysticism and culture

The Actual Star is a well performed epic of religion, mysticism and indigenous culture.
Spanning 2000 years of history, in vignettes from the year 1012, 2012 and 3012, the book traces the track from Mayan royalty to the transcendence of consciousness 2000 years later from a religion inadvertently started by a modern 2012 woman on a trip back to partially Mayan roots. Replete with highly researched ancient culture, modern commentary on the struggles of central American indigenous culture in the modern error, and believable future technologically-connected but post-apocalyptic culture and science.

As I heard this on audio-book, the performance was key to maintaining the believably. Each chapter starting out with both Mayan and modern dates helps set the transition from the three eras, but I imagine a READING of the book might be hard to follow, at least for me. I HIGHLY recommend that you get the audio-book as the performances of the vocal talent is superlative and worth it in itself.

There are the necessary modern warnings of disturbing themes (blood letting through self-cutting being one) but I found this much less disturbing than the androgynous confusion of love and physical sex in the future through genetic engineering. Not necessary to the plot, it left me feeling more preached at than enlighten or drawn along with the story. Some of the climate-change/anti-capitalistic themes also seemed preachy and one-dimensional.

But, while making the book a bit longer than perhaps needed, the story idea, story arc, and story-telling is extremely well done. The author has a talent for details of the ancient Maya culture that is fascinating in itself and sure to open the readers mind to new anthropological ideas. The detailed thoughts of ancient Maya royalty is believable and entertaining. The sacrificial rituals and descriptions are sometimes graphic, but necessarily so to tie the story together. And the character development draws you in to each.

This will spur me to read Ms. Byrne's prior work and for me to be looking forward to her next. That is probably the best compliment I can give an author.

1 person found this helpful

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whoa!

wasn't sure about this one but I loved Monica's other wild ride, The Girl In The Road, so I dove into this lengthy book. I have no idea how she did it. So well researched and so many pieces that came together. she also leaves you guessing and wanting to talk about this with everyone you know! great audio narrators but also see if you can get a hard copy to see the EXTENSIVE glossary of terms in the back. loved it!

1 person found this helpful

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masterpiece time spanning epic

masterpiece is the best word I can come. it ties together 3 different epochs past present and future as if they were intimately connected through the timeless non-western mythos of the mayan worldview and calendar

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  • Sophie B
  • 01-07-22

Gripping story, good recording

Gripping story across three millennia, I enjoyed the balance between historical inspiration and sort-of-just-plausible sci fi, and a few bits where you have to make up your own mind what’s happening.

Good audio version with 3 narrators for the 3 different time periods (with each also covering a few phrases in 3 languages - Ch’ol Maya, Creole, and Spanish). That helped imagine the different worlds, almost more than if I’d read the languages on a page I think. I wish there were a proper preview on Audible though, listening to a bit of the author’s note is not very inspiring.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Soma
  • 04-17-22

You Need to be Bilingual to Understand this Book!

There wa far too much Spanish to make sense of the context, especially in the future story setting. This was very alienating, especially as a listener.

I'm sure that a fluent Spanish speaker would be able to take cues to understand the future context, but as an English and French speaker, I was just lost and frustrated. I gave up after the introduction to the third character.

This may well be an impressive piece of storytelling, but I wouldn't know because the language was completely inaccessible. I don't expect to have to reach for a language dictionary every 5 words just to follow what's going on in book ostendibly published in English.

Disappointing.

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  • Ben Caldwell
  • 04-07-22

An ambitious triumph

I was attracted to this book via the Guardian wrap up of best sci fi of 2021, and was not disappointed. While I would call it speculative rather than science fiction, it weaves an epic story across two thousand years of Maya history, present day tourism and far future post climate change society. The characters are richly drawn and the world building is top notch. The audio performances (three different narrators) are uniformly excellent, really bringing the text to life. Highly recommended!

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  • Ms S. J. Casey
  • 10-17-21

Do spend a bit of time with the PDF

I didn't, but still got loads of joy out of the audiobook. I have a little Spanish and love the language but again don't believe that to be necessary either. I realised that while listening I may have missed some detail while considering what this or that meant, and those constructions are explained in the PDF.

The performances are excellent especially given the length of the piece. It flattened a little for me about three quarters through, but recovered pace soon enough. There are some surprising character twists and plenty of interesting philosophy, it's one that a week after finishing the book I'm still thinking about.

Overall a highly entertaining read, with a satisfying ending which, heads up, you'll need to make time to read or listen to properly.