“I love you.”
Iconic words for an iconic couple who fell in love in a galaxy far, far away. Han Solo and Princess Leia are, as they say, goals. No matter what their ending, in that moment there are several things happening: They’ve been betrayed, the bad guys are surrounding them, he’s about to get frozen in carbonite, but they take this moment to say these words. Star Wars is about light and darkness, rebellion and revenge, but for me Star Wars has always been about hope and love. It isn’t just the romantic parts—the scenes where Anakin and Padmé sneak off time to be together or agonizing moments between star-crossed lovers Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree. It’s also the love of found family and friendship and charming droids. These are the things that make these narratives so relatable and universal.
A Crash of Fate is the story of two unlikely friends. Izzy is an aspiring smuggler and Jules is a starry-eyed farm boy. They have 24 hours to deliver a package or die trying. (And also fall in love along the way.) When I sat down to write their story, I kept going back to one question: Why would Izzy and Jules choose each other? It’s easier to let people go. It’s easier to run away. It’s easier to look the other way when someone is in trouble. The First Order is on Black Spire Outpost and the Resistance is somewhere on the planet. Things aren’t easy. But if there’s one thing that Star Wars has taught me, it’s that the galaxy is pretty much always in some kind of upheaval, but fighting against the dark, falling in love, holding on to hope are all a choice.
It’s no surprise that I’ve picked the following YA SFF novels that have the same spirit.
Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray
Lost Stars is arguably my favorite Star Wars novel. I would read Claudia’s laundry list because I’m sure it’s full of sexual tension and slow burn. In Defy the Stars, I fell in love with soldier and rebel Noemi Vidal from the planet Genesis. She’ll do whatever it takes to protect her home world, even give up her life. Abel, on the other hand, is a machine. He’s been drifting in space for years, and his programming has begun to evolve. This presents a problem as the people of Genesis see Abel as an abomination.
Gray has a pitch-perfect way of making lovers out of enemies. Without being dogmatic, she creates a dialogue about why societies go to war. Noemi and Abel just happen to be caught in the middle of it all. They’re forced to work together (obvs) and along the way find out that there’s more to this war than they ever knew. The trilogy is complete, which means you can binge it straight away. This is one of Gray’s best.
Wicked Fox by Kat Cho
This one most definitely takes place in the real world but is no less epic. It’s my hope that Wicked Fox revives paranormal romance for a new generation. Eighteen-year-old Gu Miyoung has a secret: She’s a gumiho (a nine-tailed fox who feeds on the energy of men to survive) hunting in modern-day Seoul.
But, during one full moon, Miyoung crosses paths with Jihoon, and does the one thing she’s forbidden from doing: Rescue him. It’s a classic tale of human in love with a supernatural being. The chemistry and romance is undeniable. Cho plays with gender roles in the vein of Beautiful Creatures, which means no damsel in distress here. There’s danger, a rising evil, and best of all, a tenuous friendship that has definitely possibility. Kat Cho is a debut author to watch, and I can’t wait to see what is in store for our fox-girl.
Honor Among Thieves by Rachel Caine and Ann Aguirre
The romance in this one is a little unconventional—blink.gif—but in a good way. Especially when you consider that the love interest is technically a sentient spaceship. Before you try to wrap your mind around how that would work, just go with it. Aguirre and Caine throw out the playbook when it comes to expectations. They take a petty criminal, Zara Cole, and put her into the Honors, an elite team of humans selected by the Leviathan—a race of sentient alien ships.
When Zara meets Nadim, it’s a classic meet-cute of girl meets alien ship. What I love about Caine and Aguirre’s characters is that when you strip away the sci-fi layers, you get a meaningful discussion about the meaning of life, love, and war. Everything is just better in space.
Warcross by Marie Lu
Welcome to Warcross: a dystopian future that doesn’t seem too far off. I love the way Marie Lu makes you feel like you’re really experiencing this world, because for millions, Warcross isn’t just a game and obsession—it’s their way of life, a virtual reality that has become part of everyday life, including currency, memories, dreams, and a huge arena game. For a hacker like Emika Chen, Warcross is a way to pay the bills and survive. She’s a bounty hunter whose targets are the players who bet on the game illegally. When she hacks into the game’s biggest annual event, she catches the attention of the game’s young hot billionaire creator, Hideo Tanaka. He’s mysterious, tragically beautiful, and impossible to figure out. Of course, he makes her an offer she can’t refuse. Emika goes from bounty hunter to spy, but she never compromises who she is. She has a code and will stick to it, which is admirable in this world. Without meaning to, she builds a real family out of her rag-tag misfit team. Emika’s lived in abject poverty and prepared for anything. But the only thing she isn’t prepared for is the tenuous trust and relationship with Hideo. The cliffhanger is a gut-punch and will have you glitching right into the finale, Wildcard.
Heart of Iron by Ashley Poston
This one has it all: a space crew, a sentient android boyfriend, and a scoundrel of a girl. Seventeen-year-old Ana is an outlaw. She was found as an orphan, drifting through space with a sentient android called D09 (one of the last remaining illegal Metals). When D09 starts malfunctioning, Ana sets off on a quest to find a way to fix the Metal boy she loves. Everything goes wrong when a spoiled Ironblood boy beats her to the prized coordinates. Now, bound together, they’re all fugitives, running from the entire kingdom. Wanted dead or a live is my favorite team-building trope and Poston goes full speed ahead. Her characters are snarky, charming, and head-strong—a little Firefly, a little Star Wars, a little Anastasia. Heart of Iron is about people who love each other enough to dive head first into terrible odds.
But as our Space Dad Han would said, “never tell me the odds.”
Zoraida Córdova is the award-winning author of the Brooklyn Brujas series, The Vicious Deep trilogy, and Star Wars: A Crash of Fate. Her short fiction has appeared in the New York Times bestselling anthology Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View, and Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft. Zoraida was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York. When she isn’t working on her next novel, she’s planning her next adventure.