The Last Gifts of the Universe is written in a fun and lighthearted voice, making me believe at first that it was a young adult novel that wouldn't really suit my tastes. However, I read on, appreciating how deftly the worldbuilding and characters were developed while keeping the plot moving.
Despite being led by the early chapters to believe this would be a well-written but fairly light adventure, this story features some particularly poignant writing, including one moment that just...emotionally destroyed me. Seriously, no exaggeration, I was ugly-crying during one chapter. Any story that can pull that off gets an immediate recommendation from me.
One of the standout elements of the book is the story-within-a-story of the alien Blyreena, which serves as a source of hope for the protagonist Scout and parallels how the present-day characters are dealing with the absolutely crushing situation they're in. The exploration of grief and its beauty is a major theme in the book, and the ending of this subplot is a fitting tribute to this idea, with a beautiful quote that left a lasting impression.
No book is perfect, however, and there were a few questions that had me scratching my head. In one chapter, our protagonists frustrated me by relying purely on hope and luck to overcome a deadly situation rather than any well-thought-out plan. These character missteps were rare though, and throughout most of the book, the author does an excellent job communicating the characters' reasoning and emotions.
In conclusion, the novel is a deep, thematic exploration that transcends its initial impression as a lighthearted adventure. The author's writing style is fun and easy to read, but also packs an emotional punch, particularly in its exploration of grief. For readers who appreciate stories that can evoke strong emotions, The Last Gifts of the Universe is a must-read.
My Score: 8/10
/* Note: Last Gifts came up through my judging team through the slush pile to become a quarter-finalist, then semi-finalist, and now finalist. This review includes a numeric score as it's already public knowledge. */