Thursday, August 18, 2011

ARC Review: Name of the Star

Time for another review of one of the ARCs I got at ALA. It was such an amazing experience, I wish they had them in New Orleans every year. Of course, everyone who got rained on/sweated through every change of clothes/got heat stroke probably wishes ALA was in California, but what are they going to eat while they're there? ;)

I have to give Maureen Johnson's creepy first novel in the Shades of London series, The Name of the Star, three out of five pentacles.

First, the writing: Frankly, it sounds more or less like the author's twitter stream—a little witty, a little snarky, and really easy to read. And keep reading until you're at page fifty and wondering how you got there so fast. The book does use alternating first and third person povs, which I'm not usually a fan of. In this case, the story needed some outside povs, and the MC had such a strong voice, she just wouldn't have had that same self-deprecating wit if written in third.

However... her Louisiana background felt a little too forced to me. Sure, we're full up on the kind of weirdos that apparently populate Rory's family tree, but some things didn't ring true. CRAY-fish? WTF? Cray might be their official name, but here in La., they're called crawfish, or crawdads, or mudbugs. Johnson's familiarity with London feels much more convincing to me than Rory's BĂ©nouville, with everyone living in their "McMansions" and commuting to the city to teach at the university. (Her crazy aunt's Healing Angel Ministry, on the other hand, now that sounds like rural Louisiana.) Also, the green Carolina parakeet has been here since Audubon's time. These are just nitpicky things that didn't really detract from the story, but may have had an effect on how I reacted to the mc. 

Now, the foggy, dreary London setting was exceptionally well drawn—I've never been to London, but I felt like I was there. Though the boarding school locations were fun, I was glad to see it that the action left the grounds and took the reader to more sordid, scary parts of the city. The Jack the Ripper info that was thrown in contributed to that spooky feeling.

Much as I loved the initial Jack the Ripper bits, however, I was disappointed in how this was used more as a plot device and mood setter than as a major part of the story. The cover also gives the impression that the story would be going in one direction, when it actually moved in another. Now, there were a few problems I had with the storyline...

*****HIGHLIGHT FOR SPOILER***** Rory's brush with death—choking at dinner?—seemed a little contrived, too convenient*****

Also, IMO, Rory never really seemed to come into her own, by which I mean, I kept waiting for her to "save the day".

While she was willing to sacrifice herself to save her friends, she never felt like the most active character. There were also a few times at the end where I thought the bad-guy started to go overboard on the explanatory monologuing, and I never really understood why he felt the need to attract the attention of the Shades in the first place.

But what made this book stand out was that despite the requisite cute guy with an accent, this wasn't a romance. There were exciting, romantic moments, but the focus stayed firmly on the mystery, and not on the MCs relationship with a guy. Though I thought her school-mates were a little two-dimensional (quiet, gentle roommate; bossy head-girl; hot-guy with accent), the other "Shades" made up for that once they came into the story. I wish Boo was my friend, and I thought Stephen and Callum were very well fleshed out. Since they'll probably play larger roles in the second installment than Rory's school-mates, I'm looking forward to reading the next book, but I won't be dying for an ARC.

Anyone else read this yet? As I read my review back, I realize it sounds a little harsh. But all of the things that bothered me were small, and didn't add up to be enough to turn me off. I'd love to hear what y'all thought!

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