Asteria lives on a domed farm with her father on a quiet planet until the day when raiders attack the farm and kill her father and cousin, leaving Asteria alone. A nearby religious community takes her in, but they obviously have designs on the land Asteria will inherit and intend to turn her into a traditional wife in a highly patriarchal system, so Asteria manages to sneak off planet and get into space academy using her cousin's admission papers.
She eventually learns more about the historic space battle in which her father was injured, one where he was more of a hero than she or the public suspected. And Aster, as she now calls herself, runs afoul of some aristos, especially the treacherous Kain Kayser (Count Mastral), who seems determined to destroy Aster—and who will probably remind you of Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter books.
Aster manages to foil at least some of the arrogant boy's plots. She also studies to be a spaceship pilot and tries to figure out the meaning of the odd belt she found among her father's things, which won't come off once she puts it on. By the end of the book, she realizes that the treachery she has observed so far is only the beginning of worse conspiracies, and that there are those who would be perfectly happy to see her dead.
Unused to being around other kids, Aster doesn't make friends easily, but readers will see her worries and loneliness, as well as her determination. Aster's best buddy at the Academy ends up being a boy named Dai, someone she initially dislikes. The author gives us no hint of romance, which suits the story. Aster is too focused on her plans to be mooning over boys. Her long-term mission is to get revenge on the raiders for her father's death.
Here's the book's rather grand opening:
Asteria Locke's world ended quite suddenly one noon in the early summer of her thirteenth Standard year. Before that hour, she had been the daughter of a farmer on the fringe planet of Theron. Before that day, she had no brothers or sisters, but she did have a cousin who—how she envied him—had been destined to travel offworld, to study at the most prestigious school in the Empyrion. She also had a father who had once served in the Royal Empyrean Space Fleet, though her mother had been dead for a long time.
After that day, she had no one.
Yet after that day—after that hour—she set out on the long path to becoming a legend.
There is something satisfying about an epic hero's journey, that long path Strickland points us down with this first book in his new series, The Academy. Fans of the recent Star Trek movie and adventure stories in general will enjoy seeing Aster set out on her journey. This isn't Ender's Game, mind you; it's for 9- to 12-year-olds and is less intense, with more of a Harry Potter books 3-5 feel. But it's a promising series start for the middle grades, and I look forward to reading the next installment. Thanks to Flight of the Outcast and a handful of other recent books, the noticeable dearth of science fiction for the middle grades is beginning to be remedied.