Good Omens meets The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet in Ryka Aoki’s Light From Uncommon Stars, a defiantly joyful adventure set in California’s San Gabriel Valley, with cursed violins, Faustian bargains, and queer alien courtship over fresh-made donuts.
Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six.
When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka’s ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She’s found her final candidate.
But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn’t have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan’s kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul’s worth. And maybe something as small as a warm donut is powerful enough to break a curse as vast as the California coastline.
As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe for is found.
Please enjoy this free excerpt of Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki, on sale 09/28/2021.
Shizuka listened to the jingle of a passing ice cream truck. It was not every day that Shizuka felt fortunate to have been damned by Hell. But it did keep her from getting too shocked by life’s surprises. Space aliens at a donut shop? Why not? In fact, it was refreshing to meet someone else with secrets for a change.
“So, what do you look like, really?” Shizuka asked.
Lan looked away. When making first contact, it always came to this, didn’t it?
“Scary,” she finally said.
“Yes. Really scary.” Lan turned her gaze back to Shizuka. “Does it matter?”
Shizuka shrugged. “To be honest, I suppose by now I’d be pretty scary, too.”
“What do you mean?”
The sun was just beginning to drop in the sky, and the golden glow made Shizuka recall Technicolor, The Brady Bunch, and ABC After School Specials.
“I used to be a musician.”
Lan listened as Shizuka talked about a deal with a demon and a soul in exchange for souls. She listened as Shizuka spoke about a music she could barely articulate, a music that had eluded her for years.
Shizuka talked about how she had finally found it, that afternoon on this very bench, in a girl with a cheap violin, a tuning fork, a battered copy of Schradieck, and a huge bruise on her face.
And how she had been coming here as often as she could, feeding the ducks, hoping for that girl to return.
Lan tried to understand what Shizuka said. Some civilizations still might symbolically pledge to a family, a government, even an idea. The entire Tarn Republic declared itself a servant of peace in one of its final communications.
But Lan’s civilization had long evolved beyond believing in supernatural beings and souls and music. And, in her reality, no one would think to attach such importance, such meaning, to music.
Still, as Lan listened to Shizuka’s voice, it was as if her words had a faint and peculiar pull, giving Lan the tiniest desire to enter Shizuka’s reality as well.
Shizuka shivered. She realized she had told Donut Lady far more than she intended.
“We said too much, didn’t we?” she said.
“I could wipe your memory,” Lan offered. “Of course, I’d wipe mine out too. Just for this afternoon.”
“That would be awkward. And besides, I want to remember this.”
They finished tossing in the last few donuts, stood up and brushed off the crumbs and frosting.
“Plum-colored,” Lan said softly.
“Our true forms,” Lan said. “We are plum-colored.”
“Yes. And our hair can be any color from orange to green. Though some of us have blue—mostly from the southern quadrant. My original hair is green.”
“I . . . see.”
“And we have two elbow joints. They would be here . . . and here.”
“What about your knees?”
“They are the same. Our patellar ligaments are more robust, however. Actually, all our ligaments are.”
“I see. And what else?”
“What else? You’re not horrified?”
Shizuka tried not to smile. “I’ll manage.”
“Yours must be a very open-minded species,” Lan said admiringly
Whatever Shizuka intended to say next would have to wait.
A girl was running to them in tears.
Eventually, Shizuka and Lan pieced together what happened.
“We should call your authorities?” Lan asked.
Shizuka shook her head. The police would only make this worse. “But we need to visit that pawnshop.”
Lan nodded. She pulled out her phone to message Shirley that she’d be late.
Shizuka turned to the girl.
“What’s your name?”
“Okay, Katrina Nguyen, let’s get your violin.”
Pawnshops and musicians have a long history. Within so many pawnshops lay dreams lost, broken, never realized. Usually, a musician of Shizuka’s stature would have nothing to do with these places.
But Shizuka had never been overly concerned with the usual.
As Shizuka pulled up to the shop, Katrina pointed at the front window.
“That’s mine!” she cried. “Please get it back. I don’t have the money, but I’ll pay you back a little at a time, I swear . . .”
“Don’t worry,” Shizuka said. “Everything will be fine.”
No doubt, that was the same violin Shizuka had seen that day in El Molino Park. But while that instrument had been in perfect condition, this one had its E and A strings missing, as well as its tuning peg.
And the price tag read $450.
Katrina rushed to the owner and pointed to the window.
“That violin was stolen!”
“That’s what they all say,” the man behind the counter said, not looking up from his computer. “It’s a bit loved, but it’s a good violin. Four hundred fifty dollars.”
Before Katrina could reply, Lan cleared her throat.
“It’s damaged. Lower the price,” Lan said commandingly.
Shizuka was startled—so that was what a starship captain sounded like.
The owner blinked. “Maybe I can do four twenty-five, but that’s it. I believe the instrument was made in Germany.”
“You believe wrong,” Lan said. “Two hundred. Cash. It costs me at least two hundred to repair, and it’s still fair profit for you.”
“Two hundred dollars. And a good Yelp review.”
She did not have to add that she could also write a bad one.
“Make it a good review,” he finally said.
Lan reached for her purse, but Shizuka held her arm and put her finger to her lips.
“I don’t think you understood what this girl said,” Shizuka said innocently. “This violin was stolen.”
“Of course she did. People say that all the—” The pawnshop owner looked at Shizuka and stopped cold.
Now it was Lan’s turn to be startled—the pawnshop owner was terrified.
“Surely, you’re not implying that she would lie to you?” Shizuka said sweetly.
“Uh, of course not.”
“The girl should have her violin back.”
“Y-yes, of course,” he stammered.
“And her case.”
“Yeah, sure. Case too.”
Katrina and Lan watched wordlessly as Shizuka inspected the violin.
“A peg is missing. Strings are missing. The bridge . . . what happened? Was it you?” Shizuka glared at the owner. “I can find out, you know.”
“No! I didn’t do anything! I swear it was like that when I got it!” He was in near hysterics. He pulled out a roll of cash and peeled off some bills. “This should pay for the damages. Please. J-just take it.”
“Thank you,” she said politely. “And I shall.”
Copyright © Ryka Aoki 2021
Pre-order Light From Uncommon Stars Here: