Review: Starless by Jacqueline Carey - 7.5/10*
Jacqueline Carey, of Kushiel’s Dart fame, has given us a fun standalone novel in Starless. From nearly the first page I was hooked. In Starless we’re treated to a fantastical world, wonderful characters, and an epic plot and each of these elements is woven together with beautiful prose into a satisfying, if flawed, whole.
Starless is set in a world without stars. Each of those stars was a child of the gods—the gods being the sun and three moons—but for their rebellion they were cast down and now roam the earth. This sets the backdrop for a prophecy and a dark god and many other tropey elements. But what Carey does so well is take what could be generic tropes and use them in a way that doesn’t feel tired, at least for the most part. She handles these things in fresh ways and with such strong characters that the idea that they are tropes doesn’t really bother you. Speaking of characters, Khai is a wonderfully realized protagonist. Carey manages to cram three books worth of character development for Khai into this standalone and to do so in a way that does not feel rushed at all. In addition to this she includes fully realized side-characters. One of the things I loved is that the side characters don’t feel like they are simply there to aid the protagonists. It feels as if they have lives of their own that simply intersect—at this moment in time—with the protagonists. It’s extremely well-done. She also crafts a world that is deep and immersive. I love seeing multiple races and fantastical beasts in fantasy, and Carey delivers on that front in droves. But each element feels like it connects well to the whole and informs it. A book like this could easily feel jumbled, a mish-mash of ideas, but Carey’s novel doesn’t feel that way in the least. This is well-crafted fantasy that needs to be read.
For me, the biggest weakness to the book was the third act. While the first act felt fresh and exciting and the second act began bringing threads together in a way that was very satisfying, I felt like the third act bogged down. I think this is largely down to the need for Carey to communicate some new information because of the structure of the story. This is disappointing because the first two parts of the book are so excellent. I think some additional foreshadowing earlier in the book, and maybe some tighter plotting in the third part, could have alleviated this. Perhaps I felt the pacing slow down because the tropes that I earlier had felt were done in fresh ways start to wreak havoc on the story itself. I’m not certain. In any event, the third act is uneven and for me didn’t measure up to the first two parts. Even so, Starless is worth reading.
Starless is a hopeful fantasy novel that touches on a variety of important topics and does so in a fresh, fun way. The ending does move more slowly than the rest of the book, and that keeps it from realizing its full potential, but the first two parts are excellent enough to make it worthy of your time. 7.5/10