Exiles of the Stars (1971) is the second novel in Andre Norton’s MOONSINGER or MOON MAGIC series and a direct sequel to the first book, Moon of Three Rings (1966). These two novels have been combined into an omnibus edition called Moonsinger which was published in print in 2013 by Baen books and in audio format this year by Tantor Audio. The narrators of the audio edition, Chris Abernathy and Chelsea Stephens, are well-cast. They give an excellent performance. I recommend this edition but, in whatever format you read them, make sure to read Moon of Three Rings first. There will be some spoilers for that novel in this review.
In Moon of Three Rings, Krip Vorlund, a free trader, met a moonsinger named Maelen while visiting the frontier planet Yiktor. Krip had been lured into a trap by natives who wanted to get control of his off-world weapons. This led to a strange series of events which culminated in Krip’s mind being transferred to another man’s body and Maelen’s mind being transferred into a small furry creature which appears to others to be Krip’s pet.
Their original bodies are gone – they are not getting them back – but the duo, who are now traveling with Krip’s crew on the starship Lydis, hope to at least get a human body for Maelen. But since she has broken the laws of the moonsingers, she can’t expect them to help, so Krip and Maelen, who are quickly developing a romantic bond, are on their own.
When the crew arrives on an unknown planet, they discover some forerunner artifacts that will make the entire Lydis crew very wealthy. With the money they make, Krip wants to purchase a starship so he can start his own trading business while Maelen hopes to buy a ship so she can transport the animals she cares for around the galaxy. That is, if she can get a human body. She is beginning to worry that her human mind will be lost if she is forced to remain too long in an animal form.
There are other things to worry about, too. In the hold of Lydis is a throne on which Maelen keeps perceiving a flickering image. They begin to suspect they’ve been sent to this planet by some sort of powerful force (the one on the throne, presumably) that is influencing them. Maelen feels it calling to her own power and, again, worries that her own mind will be lost. She feels especially vulnerable to this because she’s in an animal body. Krip and Maelen will need to discover the source of the power that is trying to control the minds, and eventually the bodies, of the entire Lydis crew.
Exiles of the Stars is a satisfying sequel to Moon of Three Rings. Norton doesn’t always give us a strong female lead, so the focus on Maelen, a smart and competent woman, is welcome. It’s a little annoying that she also has to be the most beautiful woman Krip has ever seen – physically perfect in every way – but whatever. At least she’s smart.
As in the previous story, this one again asks us to consider the mind-body connection, specifically how the physical body we’re in might affect our thoughts and behaviors. Both Krip and Maelen are inhabiting bodies that are different than the ones they were born in and both of them have experienced living in non-human bodies. Krip mentions that each of the bodies he’s inhabited has given him new outlooks and perceptions that he wouldn’t have otherwise. His captain finds these insights valuable.
Exiles of the Stars ends in a good place, but the story continues in Flight in Yiktor which was published 15 years later, and then, a few years later, Dare to Go A-Hunting. These two novels are combined in the omnibus Moonsinger’s Quest, also published by Baen (2013) and Tantor (2021). I’ll let you know how they go.