Originally posted on Book Frivolity!
Narrative: Third person, past tense, subjective.
I am not often completely surprised when I pick up a novel, but Starborn by Lucy Hounsom is such a great debut into the fantasy genre, I was completely and pleasantly
surprised by how much I enjoyed the novel and how engrossed I found myself in the story line.
This is classic fantasy all the way! Beautifully rendered locales, a unique but comfortable world building, strong yet flawed characters and lots of running about madly! It has elements that have a feel similar to authors like Rothfuss, Hobb and Canavan, but a plot line that hearkens back to older classics like Eddings. The great thing is, this isn't a rehash, this is all Hounsom.
The main points of view revolve around Kendra the main protagonist, a strong young woman forced to flee her home when her village turns on her, and her rescuers; Bregenne a blind lunar mage that can see with her magic at night and Nadair a healer solar mage, Bregenne's bond partner. They are all really well rounded characters, emotionally and motivationally, and expressive enough to be empathised with. They go through a steady development, and having glimpses into the secondary POV's histories, allows a sense of connection with the reader.
The fractious characters were also well done, they had motive, and the why's
for their actions are actually quite understandable. There isn't a character in the bunch that has empty crazy psychopathic overlord machinations to create the malevolence, thank the Gods! The side characters, particularly Kryndra's frenemies, are a bit flat and one dimensional, they weren't much more than devices to move the plot around.
There is a lot of intrigue and mystery surrounding the world and characters of Starborn. Undercurrents of political and faction push and shove abound, and the sense that nobody has a damn clue about what the reality of world actually entails. The thing that kept me hooked was the scattering of clues, little cut scenes or other devices that allows the reader to piece together certain elements, without just throwing a big shock reveal at the end to cover all the bases. There is absolutely a big reveal, no fantasy would be without one, but the little crumbs along the way give groundwork to it, instead of hashing it out of thin air! It's a 'aha!' not a 'what in all the seven hells?' moment.
The magic system is based on lunar and solar powers; each mage only able to utilise one power, only able to access it during the sun or moons presence and losing it at dawn or dusk. It's was not only a great way to show that these mage's aren't all powerful all the time, but it leaves them open to human vulnerability half the day. As the power flows in and out, you can almost see them inflating or deflating, the absence like losing a life spark. To counteract this, they must be bonded to a lunar or solar counterpart, so they can become a complete unit. It's a really smart way of introducing tension to the storyline, not every bond is beneficial and can be manipulated, whilst some can be heartbreaking, especially when it's severed.
The main niggle I encountered when reading Starborn, is the lack of depth and complexity of interaction the main protagonist Kyndra, has with secondary characters. It's not a grand problem in the scheme of things, but it is noticeable in sections. There are encounters that feel skimmed over, when I wanted to see teeth! Enemy to friendship or friendship to disdain, just seemed to slip into place. I want struggle! I want grit! The strange thing is, the secondary Pov's didn't suffer from it, they did have grit and struggle, which in turn made me care about the peripheral relationships more than Kyndra with her friends or enemies. Her internal dialogue is still strong, she isn't a weak character, so it just needs a nudge for it to settle into the sweet spot. Possibly, rounding out those side characters might have helped with this.
The other slight annoyance, and this may just be preference, was feeling caught ooutside the overflow right at the start of the book. There isn't enough time to get a sense of the characters before all hell breaks loose, so I didn't care what happened to them until further on when it pulled back and the pacing settled down. I was feeling 'meh' when I probably should've been having a stronger reaction.
I really want to note Hounsom's way with adjectives! That sounds a bit strange, but her ability to create atmosphere with beautiful yet precise descriptions can be almost like watching a scene, rather than reading it. You probably won't even notice the skill, because by nature it hides in it's own wordery unless you actually stop to take notice. It's not pointlessly flowery to be cumbersome nor so curt it lacks emphasis, it's quite masterful. Hounsom, I think, was a great reader before a writer!
This really is a fantastic book! Hounsom's début surpasses many authors that have well established careers, so I think she'll be a big name in the future with the right backing.
As a side, this is one of those fantasy's that can slip easily into either adult or young adult, like many of the classics can. I don't think I encountered any reason to think it wouldn't be just as suitable for a 15 year old as it would for a 105 year old! Harcopy Worthy?
It's already in April's Wishlust.- Yes, this review is almost as long as the book. It correlates with how much I enjoyed it!