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Booklist – June 1, 2016
In this lovely, meditative historical novel about the daughter of an
eighteenth-century stargazer, Pipkin explores the conundrum
astronomers face when confronted by an endless universe and
humanity’s near insignificance in comparison. The story follows
several characters—all of them stars in their own galaxies—in
multiple plotlines, which is sometimes confusing and diffuses the
book’s focus on Siobhan (aka Caroline). Incorporated into her story
are William Herschel, discoverer of Uranus, and his sister (also
named Caroline); the 1798 Irish Rebellion; telescope-making and
star-mapping; a fictitious family of Ainsworths living in Ireland;
and the adoption of a foundling. This multitude of sprawling
parallel plots and descriptive historical details, along with the
large cast of seemingly unrelated characters, does help bring home
the author’s point that life and astronomy are made up of endless
searches among diverse possibilities. This lyrical, philosophical
book both frustrates and delights. Its focus on discovery is similar
to that in Michael Byers’ Percival’s Planet, and Pipkin’s poetic
language will remind readers of Dava Sobel’s essay collection, The
Planets (2005). Herschel’s story is also fictionalized in Carrie
Brown’s TheStargazer’s Sister (2016).
— Jen Baker