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There Once Were Stars
By Melanie McFarlane
Month9BooksCopyright © 2016 Melanie McFarlane
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I stretch my arms across my bed, running my fingers along the same sheets I've had since I was a child. The stiffness was beaten out of them long ago, but they still carry the memory of my mother carefully stitching the first tear back together when I was seven. The tiny x's remind me of her long fingers, moving the needle back and forth with the same care as when she worked with samples in her laboratory.
I trace the row of stitches, squeezing my eyes shut as I make a wish; it is my eighteenth birthday, after all. But when I open them, the same scene shows from my bedroom window that always does — the grid of our dome. Nothing changes. It doesn't matter how many birthday wishes are made; I always wake up trapped inside the dome. The grid of thick glass and steel arcs far above our apartment, stretching to where the great Axis, a tower of government offices, meets the peak of our home — Dome 1618.
I crawl out of bed and let my gaze trail down the Axis to the rooftops of the other apartment buildings, row upon row of housing for blue-collar workers. Closer to the Axis are the townhouses of business owners, hidden from the rest of us, but that's not where I long to be. My eyes drift to the base of the dome, far away from my window where the Outer Forest stands tall — my only saving grace. It's forbidden to hike among the trees, but sometimes rules need to be broken.
"Natalia!" Grandmother's piercing voice comes from the other side of my bedroom door. "Get up. You're wasting the day away."
The clock on my dresser reads eight o'clock in the morning. It's been nine years since I moved in with my grandparents, and saying Grandmother and I have differing opinions barely touches the surface. Her rules are sometimes worse than those of the Order, who police the dome. With any luck, I'll be assigned my own apartment soon, and will finally be able to restart my life again.
I run a brush through my long brown hair, which matches my eyes. I don't know why I bother — by the time I go outside it will look unruly once again. It's my curse; I have thick hair like my mother, with waves that look more like oddly-placed kinks, unlike the smooth-flowing locks worn by some of the other girls at my school. But I won't have to go back to the Learning Institute again. Today I'm an adult.
My jeans are on the floor where I left them last night, and I manage to find a clean T-shirt in my drawer. Both have the same tiny stitches as my sheets, covering up the wear and tear over the years, but I sewed these back together myself. Grandmother is firm on the fact that if I don't take care of what I have, I don't get a replacement. There's no point in arguing when her opinions are as deep as the wrinkles on her face, and honestly, it's hard to tell which she has more of. Before I leave my room, I grab my mother's notebook. It's filled with her sketches and work notes on different projects she was involved in. But my favorites are the tiny notes, squeezed in the margins, excerpt of her personal thoughts, hopes, and dreams. The biggest of these was to move her family outside the dome.
"I know you were out last night," Grandmother says, eyeing me suspiciously between the milk and dry toast as I slip into my seat at the table.
"Must we have this conversation every morning?" Grandfather speaks up.
"You know the ramifications!" Grandmother shrills, and he shrinks in his chair. "Do you want to let her stroll around at night past curfew? One day she won't come home, and then we will be questioned." Grandmother redirects her attention to me. "What are you doing out there that's important enough to risk everything? Haven't I warned you? If the Order catches you, you will wish you had listened to me."
"That's my problem." I fold my arms across my chest. She always makes me back down with her words. If I'm going to be an adult, I need to learn how to take a stand.
"If your parents could only see you now," she says unsympathetically. "They would wonder how they got a daughter so determined to get herself detained. You know what they do with little girls who don't follow the rules."
"Yes," I say through gritted teeth. She's given these lectures many times. Girls who don't follow the rules are sent back to the Learning Institute for retraining, where they come out all prim and proper, ready to take their place as functional residents of the dome. I'm not going back there; I know how to stay under the radar.
"Come on, now." Grandfather finally steps in. "It's Nat's birthday."
"Yes." Her tone softens. "You're eighteen now. Hurry and eat; we got you a little something."
I gobble down the toast, stale as it is, but fresh food is not something that our dome has had in a long time. Since the accident that caused my parents' death, the Order stopped all excursions for scientific research, completely cutting off the outside world. Prior to this, there were plenty of rations from the farms due to uncontaminated seeds the expedition teams found, along with new plant life for supplementing the crops. But those stockpiles have slowly depleted.
When I finish breakfast, I look at my grandparents in anticipation. Grandfather's face is beaming, and though Grandmother looks like she is trying to be serious, I can see a small sparkle in her eyes as she hands me a tiny green box with a little purple bow. The bow is smooth, made from fabric nicer than anything I own. I gently untie it, and put the silky strand safely in my pocket, before opening the box to see what is inside.
A silver, heart-shaped locket sits on top of fine tissue paper, so delicate I don't dare touch it in case it rips. An image of two hands holding a smaller heart is engraved into the center of the locket. This is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen — I've never owned jewelry of my own. My hands are shaking so bad I almost drop the box.
"Careful!" Grandmother's voice snaps me from my awe. She grabs the box from me, and it takes all my inner strength to let it go.
She removes the necklace from the box and opens the locket, revealing a photo of my parents on their wedding day. Photos are luxuries. I only own one other — a photo of me with my parents when I turned three — and it stays safe on my nightstand. But this locket — I can take it with me anywhere. I hold up my hair, allowing Grandmother to secure it around my neck, then grasp the tiny keepsake in my hand. I will cherish it forever.
"I'm going to show this to Jak and Xara," I say, leaving the table.
"Don't forget, you have to report to work today." Grandmother reminds me.
"But it's Saturday." I groan.
"You're eighteen now," she says, her eyes vacant of the compassion they held only seconds ago. "Your time to contribute to the dome begins today. Plus, any experience is good to have if you want to be a scientist one day, like your parents."
"I don't see how cleaning toilets at the Axis will do me any good in the future," I complain. "And I never said I want to be a scientist."
"You'll find where you're meant to be." Grandfather smiles. "Understanding everything from the bottom-up will help you make a better decision about what you want to do to make your contribution."
I sigh as I lace up my sneakers, now feeling the pressure of the future. I have no idea what I want to do today, let alone the rest of my life. But it definitely does not involve cleaning up after those in the Axis. I wave good-bye as I leave the apartment, but only Grandfather waves back. My number one fan; he always tries to keep the peace between Grandmother and I. But no matter how close we are, I still have to lie about where I'm really going. No one can know about my secret place.
Outside, I stretch my arms up toward the top of the dome. The sun shines through the dust covered glass of the dome, with sections of blue sky showing here and there. I sneak around the back of our apartment building, and begin my stealthy weave through alleyways. I have hours before my first shift starts at the Axis. Hours to spend somewhere the Order can't find me.
When I reach the Outer Forest, I sneak in a break in the fence and move between the trunks of trees, inhaling the last of the old world. The rich combination of musk and earth fills my lungs as I run as fast as I can from the fence. Running is one of the few things that make me feel free. When I reach my destination, I'm out of breath, but exactly where I belong — a hidden clearing at the edge of the dome.
I crawl inside a hollowed-out tree I've claimed as my own. How did the Order miss this lone tree, dying amidst the perfection of the Outer Forest? It should have been torn down long ago, to make room for larger, healthier, oxygen bearing trees. Decay doesn't coincide with the Order's pursuit for perfection and efficiency, but it's ideal for me: hidden, empty, and alone. I accept this tree's imperfections and it offers me solace.
I clutch my locket again, this time removing it from my neck so I can look inside. A twinge of pain prickles my throat as my parents' faces stare back at me. They look so happy and in love. I remember that about them. The in love part. I haven't thought about people in love for so long.
I lean back, holding the locket against my chest, intent on enjoying the morning sun. Unfortunately, the heat of the sun doesn't penetrate the cold glass of the dome, but something about that glowing orb in those blue skies makes me feel better. Mom wrote in her notebook about the first time she felt the sun on her skin: warm and, bright, as if it gave her a new life with its rays, just like it did to the world, after the Cleansing Wars. I close my eyes, imagining myself bathed in sunlight, and finally give in to the peace of the forest.
I wake up, feeling something sharp poking my side. I can't believe I drifted off. My hand shoots behind me, to find the source of the pain. My mother's notebook is jutting awkwardly from my back pocket. I stand up to tuck it back in, and my gaze slips above a line of bushes growing wildly along the base of the dome. At the same time, something flashes above them, and my breath catches in my throat. My reflection stares back at me from the glass, revealing my locket shining in the sunlight. Relax, Dacie, it's only you. A nervous laugh escapes my throat, as I finish putting the notebook away.
Another light flashes, but this time it's in the distance, on the other side of the glass. I lean forward, focusing on the light, and see a shadow move on the other side. My entire body goes rigid, and my heart beat thunders in my ears. No one could be out there — unless — could it be an Infected? No, that's impossible. They were all killed by the Cleansing War — everything was. If the nukes didn't kill them, the nuclear fallout afterward would have.
Something moves again — closer this time. A gasp escapes my lips, as a shudder rips through my body. That's when I see it — the faint outline of a person standing in the open. He's camouflaged by a layer of dust, blending him into the barren landscape that surrounds the dome. The figure's shadow stretches across the ground, reaching toward me.
I rub my eyes, as if something in them could be making me see the figure, but when I open them I'm startled to see the figure again, only now there are two. One stays farther back, toward the rockier land, silhouetted against the foothills in the distance. The other stands a short distance from the dome. My heart skips a beat — they're both human, and they're both staring in my direction.CHAPTER 2
I creep toward the glass, slowly forcing my feet to move, not wanting to draw attention. But as I try to control each inhale and exhale, my entire body vibrates in rhythm with the electricity of my adrenaline. This can't be happening. I must be still asleep.
The man closest to me looks up in the direction of the peak of the dome, and my tension eases. They haven't spotted me. I take this moment to check him out; his clothes are covered in the filth of the dust outside and a hood hides his hair. His face is disguised by goggles above a bandana that hides the rest. Everything about them blends into the surrounding wasteland.
They can't be infected. They're much too interested in our dome. At the Learning Institute we were taught about the virus that destroyed most of mankind. People who weren't immune, changed — marked by the telltale scarring of the infection on their skin — a blackened spidery rash. The virus attacked the nervous system, making those infected jerk involuntarily. But the worst of it all was how they viciously attacked anything that moved.
I know it's foolish to think something outside could be an Infected; there hasn't been a sighting since my great grandmother's generation. But I've never seen anyone on the other side of the dome, because of the dangerous radiation left from the Cleansing Wars. I can't tear my eyes away from these mysterious Outsiders who defy all the teachings I have known my entire life. How can they survive the same radiation that killed my parents almost a decade ago?
The hood blows off of the figure in the distance, revealing messy, dark hair on a boy close to my age. He doesn't rush to lift his hood back up. Instead, he removes his goggles, and then does the unthinkable ... he takes off his left glove and points a finger right at me.
I gasp out loud as his partner turns toward me. There's no way they can see me; a foot of shock-proof glass, spotted in dust, stands between us. I'm on the inside, under the broad cover of the dome, protected behind the tinted façade, while they stand on the outside, open to the harsh world that was destroyed long before my time. But still, against all odds, our eyes connect. A smile breaks at the side of the man's mouth as another gasp escapes my lips. My hands jump to my mouth to hold my screams inside. They see me.
He steps toward me, removing his hood and goggles as he approaches the dome wall. His eyes are dark. I expected them to be entirely white, from a combination of sun blindness and radiation. When I was little, I saw an expedition scientist come back like that, skin raw and blistered; her white eyes staring into the nothingness of death. She died soon after, but the memory of those eyes was burned into my brain.
From the other side of the glass, he stares me down as he gets closer. Fear ripples through my body; I am exposed and defenseless. He is firm and unyielding with a determination unlike anything inside these walls. I force a swallow, unable to make myself run or move away.
As he walks, he kicks up the sandy dirt with every step, creating tiny clouds of dust around his boots, and footprints behind him along the undisturbed terrain. When he reaches the edge of the dome, he lifts his hand and places it on the glass in front of me. As if it has a mind of its own, my hand leaves my mouth and reaches out toward him, revealing my fear in its tremors. Our palms touch on opposite sides of the smooth glass, and I brace against it, feeling its security as I stare at the Outsider. His skin is weathered from the elements and to my surprise, nothing protects him; he is fully exposed; I am the one safe on the other side. I finally exhale; there's something familiar about him. Something that makes me feel safe.
Suddenly, he looks sharply to his right, then lets go of the glass and runs. His abruptness wakes me from my stupor, and I instantly duck into the bushes at my feet, where the ends of the branches scratch my arms. There's no way I'm dreaming. Through the branches I see Order members in pursuit. Only, they haven't seen the person who was standing next to the dome. They are in pursuit of the other, the partner, the one who stayed back. It's not too late for him to run, but he hangs back, as his friend escapes.
The partner holds his hands high in the air as the Order surrounds him. For a moment I can't see what's happening as the six armed guards block my view; I've lost the connection. My head floods with questions. Where will they take him? Why is he here? But none are so big as — how is he alive? The group breaks apart, carrying the stranger in the center, hands behind his back as he's dragged to the main entrance of the dome.
One of the Order points in my direction. My heart skips a beat, and an ache shoots through my chest. Can they see me? I cower as low as I can in the bushes, pressing my body against the coarse litter of decayed leaves that cover the ground. The member walks over to the dome, running a finger along the outside before peering through the glass. I hold my breath, so as not to move in the slightest. After a moment, they walk away.
I wait until the group rounds the corner of the dome, out of my sight, before daring to stand up. I brush myself free from debris and turn toward the trees to escape. It won't be safe for me to come back here for a long time, but there's no time to say goodbye as I dodge through the Outer Forest, making my way to the streets of the city, near the entrance of the dome.
Excerpted from There Once Were Stars by Melanie McFarlane. Copyright © 2016 Melanie McFarlane. Excerpted by permission of Month9Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Did not want to stop reading. Did not want to stop reading.
Certainly held my interest. Hope there is a sequel so can find out what direction the author is taking these characters.
Gory pages took alot to forget about them
I really enjoyed this book
I was given this book in exchange for an honest review on ebooksforreview.com. Lately I cannot lose with the books they offer. This story seemed very familiar after I read the blurb but was pleasantly surprised at how fresh it turned out to be. Nat Greyes has known nothing except life in Dome 1618. Here they are safe from the deadly levels of radiation outside. She's just turned 18, which is the age that a person chooses their occupation for the rest of their lives. But she has no clue what she wants to do. While in her secret hiding place among trees in a forbidden area on the edge of the dome, she witnesses two men outside the dome. They do not have on suits to protect them but are surviving. One is taken into custody but the other escapes the dome's soldiers. Her parents were famous scientists that died during an expedition to the outside. Nat knows that no one can find out that she saw the men and that she was in the forbidden forest, but she can't help wondering how the men survived. Where had they come from? Is it safe outside? She's assigned a job with the science department due to who her parents were. There she meets Evan, the man from outside. He explains to her that he's come for her. The outside is safe and the dome is corruptly keeping them there and that all that she knows about her parents' accident are lies. She has the key to everything they need to take down the Order who controls the dome. Crazy exciting book!!!! Sci-Fi, Mystery, Adventure, Horror, Romance.....Need I say more?
Many years ago, during the Cleansing War, radiation was released. Domes were build so the survivors could be protected from the radiation and infected. Fast forward several years and you meet Natalie, Nat, at the age of nine. Her parents were scientists that would explore outside the dome to see if the conditions were safe. But one day Nat’s parents don’t come back from an exploration and Nat is told that the infected killed them. Nat is now 18 years old and at the age where she will be given a job. But Nat is rebellious and finds herself sleeping in a clearing by the edge of the dome. When she wakes she finds two men standing outside the dome. One is captured and tells her that he was sent to save her from the dome. It seems that the residents of dome 1618 have not been told the complete truth and someone is going to do everything they can to keep up the façade that the dome is providing. Since I am a huge fan of dystopian stories I couldn’t sign up fast enough to be part of the tour for There Once Were Stars. I love the setting and the premise to the story. I felt sorry for Nat. She is stuck living with her grandmother and is given a job as a director like her parents. Although she is nice and polite she does question what is happening around her and finds out there is more going on that just radiation outside the dome. I loved this story and can’t wait to read other books from Melanie McFarlane. I received There Once Were Star for free from eBooks for Review in exchange for an honest review.
There Once Were Stars by Melanie McFarlane is an amazing book! It has everything a sci-fi nut wants in it. It has sci-fi, intrigue, suspense, government plot and cover-up, action, adventure, the unknown, creatures, a hint of romance, possibility of death at all times, twists and turns, surprises, and so much more! This book will keep you on your toes! Imagine living in a dome, told radiation outside will kill you if you ventured out. One day you see a stranger out there, and he sees you, the government catches him, and they catch you for seeing him. It is a scary world where anything can happen, and does. LOVED IT! I was given this for a honest review and it in no way effected my rating or review content. It is just great!
Dystopian novels. They are a genre, specifically from the teen section, that I tend to devour. Ever since I read Hunger Games way back before it exploded in popularity, I have been an addict. I cannot get enough of these stories. I just love seeing the various societies that authors have come up with that are supposed to be so ideal, but are really just a disastrous mess. And there are so many ways! So naturally I needed to give There Once Were Stars by Melanie McFarlane a read. A society set in our world, but in the future. People live in domes because once upon a time there was a disease so horrible, that the non infected/immune people were brought into the domes while the rest of the world was nuked. Nuking the world meant that the outside was totally uninhabitable, so they had to wait and wait and wait until the earth was ready to be fully inhabited again. The radiation left behind was deadly. There was more than one of these domes created, however, our story only involves one of them. There appears to be no communication between the domes, or if there had been, it went by the wayside as the years passed. So no one knows anything about any of the other domes. Each dome has its own government set up and its own goals. Ooooh government....dystopian....dun dun dun. Nat is our main character. She is just a girl trying to decide what she wants to do for the rest of her life, as she is at the point that she is supposed to choose. Her parents were field scientists that were killed while out on expedition outside of the dome when she was very young, so she has been raised with her parents. Well never much for following all of the rules, Nat likes to spend time out in the dome forest where she has found a small clearing. She finds solace there. The clearing also happens to be at the very edge of the dome and one day while she is out there...she sees people! But no one is supposed to be able to live outside the dome! The outsider gets brought in. Nat's world gets turned upside down. From there the rest of the story unravels. I will only tell you this. It does not have any dinosaurs in it. I had a really strange desire that this book have dinosaurs in it for some reason. Like... I really really wanted there to be dinosaurs :( Anyways, as far as dystopians go, I have read quite a few and could kind of feel where this one was going. It wasn't unoriginal or anything, but it wasn't really original either. It was a fast read though. It pulled you in and made you want to keep going, and that is always important. When it came to the writing, there were a few times that I felt that it fell a little short. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't the best either. It, however, does show a lot of promise. I definitely wasn't put off by it. I do think Melanie McFarlane may have a skill with horror writing. I would LOVE to read anything she crafts in that genre. There are some bits in the book where her writing thrived and it was usually in a darker, scarier moment. I think Melanie McFarlane can only improve and I look forward to reading more of her work in the future. She crafted quite an interesting story in a subgenre that has so many books out there that it is hard to come out with an original. And if she ever writes anything horror (teen or not) you can bet I will be picking that book up to read super fast. My Rating 3.5 Stars This review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher through Irish Banana Blog Tours in
My Review I love the concept of this book -- young adult dystopian meets The Walking Dead with a twist of Stephen King's Under the Dome and a dash of Wall-E -- and it delivers. After a virus turns people into flesh-eating monsters, the earth's population builds protective domes and nukes the outside to kill the zombies and the virus. They live inside their protective bubbles until the outside is safe enough to inhabit again. Four generations later, a new breed of pioneers search the great outdoors for evidence of sustainability outside the dome. When Natalia is just nine, her parents are killed on an expedition due to radiation exposure and the expeditions cease. Orphaned Nat is sent to live with her grandparents until she is eighteen. After graduating from the Institute, Nat needs to figure out what to do with her life, but she's uninspired until she sees two people outside the dome -- alive and well. Suddenly Nat wants answers and her reckless pursuit of those answers lands her in trouble with her dome's leadership, her grandparents, and even her best friend, Jak, who has also been harboring romantic feelings for Nat for a long time. When Nat is forced to work with Evan, one of the Outsiders she saw, she discovers the dome is hiding a lot from its citizens. Evan and Nat work together to expose the secrets and seek the freedom the both so desperately want. Plot The plot was interesting. There was definitely a lot of intrigue over what the Dome government was hiding. The pacing was perfect. Never once did I feel as if anything stalled, although there was some repetitiveness, but it was easy to overlook. I didn't much care for the love triangle, though. Nat was too back and forth with her feelings. And I don't mean over the span of days or weeks, I mean in the span of minutes. One minute she's pushing a guy away, the next minute she's mad that he's ignoring her. Once or twice would have been just flakey teenage behavior, but it happened too many times and far too often to not roll my eyes. Characters Most of the characters were interesting and developed, but this is a plot-driven story so there isn't a lot of growth in any of the characters during the story with the exception of maybe Jak. Some of the more villainous characters were cliche, but I think that works in a story like this. Sometimes you just need your bad guys to be bad, and their sad backstory isn't necessary. What Didn't Work for Me 1. Nat's waffling on her feelings. It was too much too often. 2. Lack of character growth. Even though the story was plot-driven, I would have liked a little more growth to really suck me into the story. 3. The writing. It was a little clunky at times which pulled me out of the story. It may just have been my version, since it was an ARC and those sentences might be smoothed over and refined in the final, released version. Top Five Things I Enjoyed About There Once Were Stars 1. The world building. The author did a fantastic job of creating a believable dystopian future, with enough backstory without going overboard. 2. Evan. The moody/brooding Outsider was just the right amount of light and dark to carry one third of the romance. 3. The ending. There were a few really good twists and all loose ends were wrapped up nicely. 4. The pacing. The story pacing was superbly done. 5. The characters. Sometimes authors include too many characters or they're not utilized enough, but McFarlane created only those necessary to tell the story, and incorp
4.5 Stars There Once Were Stars is a book unlike anything I’ve ever read! This book has a creative science fiction concept and is set in a world kept inside of a dome. The main character is very likeable and intelligent, making this book even better than it already is! There Once Were Stars is a sci-fi that has such an incredible concept. Basically, there is a society inside a dome, shielded from the outside world. There’s so many elements in the book that make it a good sci-fi, such as the scientist main characters, a virus, and a secretive government. This was my first dystopian/sci-fi in a while, so I’m glad that it was so well done. The setting in There Once Were Stars is so amazing! As I mentioned before, the book is set in a dome to be protected from the outside world where there is radiation. The way that the world is constructed honestly blew me away. Everything from a single tree that has a hollowed out hole that the government forgot to cut down to a massive building where scientists live and work. I could actually see the world of Dome 1618 when I was reading. The descriptions of the world are just that vivid The main character in There Once Were Stars, Nat, is very intelligent. She is literally a scientist, which proves how smart she is. Nat is also brave and not afraid to stand up to the government. She contradicts them by not agreeing with their rules and is willing to go out into the outside world to see things for herself. I just found Nat to be really likeable. There Once Were Stars is a sci-fi with a one-of-a-kind setting inside a dome. The main character is clever and brave and an actual scientist. Fans of books like The Giver will definitely enjoy this book.