~ Audiobook Review: Stars and Smoke (Stars and Smoke #1) (ARC) ~

Expected publication March 28, 2023

Author: Marie Lu

Narrator: Becca Q. Co

Audiobook Length: 11 hours 57 minutes

The Hating Game meets Mission: Impossible in this smoldering new novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu about a superstar tapped to become a secret agent and the reluctant young spy assigned to be his partner.

Meet Winter Young–rookie backup dancer turned global pop phenomenon. His star power has smashed records, selling out stadiums from LA to London. Now he’s bringing his swoonworthy assets to a whole new arena…

Infamous criminal tycoon Eli Morrison has just one weakness–his daughter, Penelope. And Penelope has just one wish for her nineteenth birthday–a private concert with Winter Young. When covert ops organization The Panacea Group approaches Winter with this once-in-a-lifetime chance to infiltrate Morrison’s inner circle, Winter must use his fame, cunning, and charisma to pull it off–only he won’t be on his own.

Posing as Winter’s bodyguard is the fiery Sydney Cossette, Panacea’s youngest spy. Sydney may be the only person alive impervious to Winter’s charms, but as the mission brings them closer, she’s forced to admit there’s more to this A-lister than slick dance moves and a handsome face. Panacea’s unlikeliest partners just might become its biggest heroes–and maybe even more–if they can survive each other first.

Stars and Smoke (#1)
Untitled (#2)

Marie Lu has written a lot of series that have been recommended to me over the years. Unfortunately, I kept forgetting about them, but I am thrilled that I finally had the chance to experience this amazing author in the form of her newest release, Stars and Smoke, which is the first novel in a series of the same name. I am not sure how many novels will be in this series, but this novel serves as an excellent introduction to the world and characters. This series follows international Chinese American superstar, 19-year-old Winter Young, who is recruited by a secret organization, Panacea, for a mission to take down criminal tycoon Eli Morrison, through his daughter, Penelope. On the mission, he will be accompanied by 19-year-old Sydney Cossette, a Panacea agent, who will be posing as his bodyguard.

This novel reminded me a little of the Chasing the CIA series which takes an outsider agent and non-agent to solve a crime. It is a lot darker than that series, though, so it turned into something I was not expected. I still love this type of story where one clearly knows what they are doing in the spy game and the other is an outsider just trying to keep up. There is obviously some frustration on Sydney’s side as it sometimes feels as if she is babysitting Winter. There are some enemies to lovers’ vibes with Sydney and Winter, but I feel like the enemies portion did not quite land. I do connect with their progression to a budding romance, but I believe it should have started from acquaintances or something similar.

Sydney has been a spy since she was 15, which took some convincing on my part as it was difficult to believe. As this is a work of fiction, I questioned it, but it did not affect my feelings on the story. I did, however, question the timeline as it seemed to read Winter was training for a week to become a spy yet another sentence in the novel said a month. Either the writing did not make it clear or there was a mistake in this draft. Both time periods are small, so it still maintains the speed that Winter had to learn, but they were details that I felt were inconsistent. This also happened with minor details, such as outfits, where it would change suddenly. For consistency, I do hope these minor details are fixed in the final version, however, I am pleased that the general story was well-written. Overall, this was an interesting start to a series and a great introduction, for me, into Lu’s writing. I greatly look forward to the next novel in the series to see more from Winter and Sydney!

**I give a special thank you to Netgalley and Macmillan Audio for the opportunity to read this enjoyable novel. The opinions expressed are completely my own.**

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