Here on planet Earth we may joke that our rock stars are gods, but in the universe of Gail Carriger's Tinkered Stars they really are. But to gain that status they first have to be recruited and then survive a competition (think American Idol competition, as opposed to the Hunger Games - no killing off the competition here) and prove they have the skill, artistry, and that certain something - call it stage presence or star power or charisma - that will make the audience worship them. Enter Phex.
Phex was abandoned by his family and forced to seek refugee status on the moon where he's currently living. He's taken a job as a barrista and though he sings along to the music of the gods playing from the screen in the cafe, he thinks less often of them then he does his customers. Until the day he's overheard singing by a member of the Dyesi. This Dyesi convinces him to enter the competition to become a new god. Phex is skeptical, but figures he's got nothing to lose. He joins a diverse group of beings on Divinty 36 and is soon training to become a singing god. Initially Phex is less concerned with his co-contestants then he is in simply doing what's necessary day to day. But as he begins serving them drinks and food - from behind the counter of the kitchen where he feels most comfortable - Phex finds himself becoming attached to each and every one of them. Now his concern is not just for his own survival in the competition, but for all of theirs as well.
Just writing this review is bringing back how much I loved this one. Carriger has created a fully-realized universe and drops the reader right into it. No info-dumps to be found here and I love that. I like to be immersed and learn the worlds as I settle into the story. As regards the story, there is tension in the competition aspect of the plot, but the real emotional pull comes from the found family that forms among the contestants and their changing relationships. Reading as Phex ventures out of his taciturn shell to not only form new connections but find his own strength as a leader was lovely from start to finish. And happily, book two of the Tinkered Starsong series is on its way.