This is Ryka Aoki’s first genre SF/F novel, though she has published one previous novel and two poetry anthologies (both finalists for the Lambda Award). She is a trans woman of Japanese descent, a musician (including violin, of course), a professor of English and gender studies, and holds a black belt in Judo. Light from Uncommon Stars was a finalist for the 2021 Hugo Award.
The story is an intersection of three unlikely people: Katrina Nguyen, a runaway transgender teen, is a violinist with a deep understanding of music but almost no training. She will find the teacher she needs in Shizuka Satomi, also known as the Queen of Hell, who has already raised six violin prodigies to both fame and tragic endings. They both find comfort at the Starrgate Donut Shop where, beneath a giant donut, Lan Tran is leading her odd family or, really, alien starship crew, in the pursuit of making the best donuts on Earth.
The formula for producing excellence in both music and donuts is not, as it turns out, very different. Both require practice, perseverance, and a willingness to explore the tiny differences in each performance that is the basis of a human connection with an audience. That resonance also requires hope, self-acceptance and, possibly, love. But before they can bring their unique talents to fruition, Katrina must deal with her abusive past, Lan Tran has to finish the stargate she is constructing inside the giant donut, and Shizuka has a literal appointment with a demon from Hell.
It shouldn’t work to have aliens, demons, and violinists in the same book, but it does. Beautifully.