Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Starborn - Review

Kyndra's fate holds betrayal and salvation, but the journey starts in her small village. On the day she comes of age, she accidentally disrupts an ancient ceremony, ending centuries of tradition. So when an unnatural storm targets her superstitious community, Kyndra is blamed. She fears for her life until two strangers save her, by wielding mysterious powers not seen for an age - powers fuelled by the sun and the moon. Together they flee to the hidden citadel of Naris. And here, Kyndra experiences disturbing visions of the past, showing war and one man's terrifying response. But first she will be brutally tested in a bid to unlock her own magic and discover a force greater than she could ever have imagined. But could it create as well as destroy? And can she control it, to right an ancient wrong?

I wanted to fall utterly, head over heels in love with Starborn, I really did. It has everything I look for in a good read - kick ass heroine, magical powers, epic world building, mystery, mythology and gorgeous writing. Yes the book blurb above is about as cliched as you're likely to find in fantasy, but it ticks all the boxes. And I liked it. I just didn't love it. This was the hardest review I've written for my blog so far because it's so hard to put my feelings into words. I guess if  I had to summarise them in one word, it would be disappointed.

First off, the storytelling is as beautiful as the book itself. Hounsom's writing is a joy, and her attention to detail in the history and mythology of the lands she has created scored big book points with me. From the gorgeous world map that greets you when you open the pages to the mysterious flashbacks that pepper the story. There are shades of Labyrinth by Kate Mosse - one of my favourite books ever - in Hounsom's storytelling, and her world building is truly epic. If anything, I'd say it's a little too good, sometimes putting her characters in the shade. It's not an easy read and there's a lot of information to take in, with exposition coming right up into the final chapters, but this is truly a world to get lost in.

For me though, this type of book lives and dies by it's protagonist(s) and that's where it fell short for me. What can I say about Kyndra Vale? The problem is, not an awful lot. Firstly, she's quite hard to gauge, sometimes she fearless and feisty, and other times she seems little more than a reader stand in for exposition rather than making her own choices, and when she does they're wildly inconsistent. In one chapter, she's trying to escape her apparent captors and fleeing for home, even though she knows that if she is caught she will face death. But in another chapter, after she's bound with magic and borderline sexually assaulted by a supporting character, she's suddenly friends with him a few pages later without so much as an apology. What drives her? What does she want from her position? What does she want for her future? Who knows. It's a problem that never really resolves itself until the final chapters, making her seem like a supporting character in her own story. I've read the entire book and would struggle to come up with a single defining characteristic for her. The revelations about who and what Kyndra is were incredibly easy to see coming, her unique and special snowflake-ness coming off as a little too twee for my tastes.

The POV shifts inconsistently too which doesn't help. We start off with Kyndra, before moving somewhat jarringly to Bregenne, one of the wielders who rescued her, then back and forth, with other supporting characters occasionally in the mix too. This sometimes happened in the middle of chapters with no more warning than a paragraph break and no supporting characters really stood out from the pack, with the exception of secondary protagonist Bregenne, a blind lunar wielder. Her chapters highlight my issues with Kyndra. We get under the skin of Bregenne, you feel like she believes in her cause, you know what motivates her and why she does the things she does. It's a shame we spend so little time with her.

The final chapters are where Kyndra finally begins to come into her own and Hounsom explores the idea of what it means to be a hero rather than a villain and how whichever path you chose will ultimately see you vilified by some and worshipped by others. It's an interesting concept rather than the usual cookie cutter good guys vs bad guys, with a heroine who isn't afraid to ask "why". It's only a shame that this happened as the book was winding down because this is where the pieces felt like they were finally coming together.

All of the elements are here for a fantastic series, albeit one suffering from something of an identity crisis. Pared down to its bare bones, the plot is pure YA - teenage girl finds out that she has long lost world saving powers and must overcome trials and treachery to save the day, but the storytelling and slower pace however is more traditional fantasy. I did enjoy the book, I just felt that for all the work that has clearly gone into it, something was missing. That said, the final chapters pulled it back. Had the whole book been written with that Kyndra, it would be a four or five star read. I'll definitely be picking up the next book when it comes out now that Lucy Hounsom has set up her world and her heroine, I just hope that it picks up where this one left off and doesn't go back to the start!

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