Thursday, 12 February 2009

‘Starfinder’ – John Marco (DAW Books)


One of the great things that I always find, about reading fantasy books, is that there will always be new authors on the shelves that I have never read before. Although John Marco has been around for a while now, his books fall into this category so when I was asked if I’d like to read an advance copy of ‘Starfinder’ I figured it would be a great way to find out what he’s all about.
I ended up picking the book up a little earlier than I had planned as it’s not due for publication until May this year. However, by the time I’d realised this I was already into it far too much to stop reading and I figured I’d post the review anyway.
You’re probably thinking that if I couldn’t put the book down then it must have been a good one, right? Well, yes and no. Let me explain...

Moth’s dream has always been to become one of the elite Skyknights, a knightly order who patrol the skies around Calio in their ‘Dragonfly’ flying machines. A lack of social standing is his main obstacle here but the cryptic words of his dying guardian are about to send him on an adventure that is even more amazing.
The city of Calio sits atop mountains overlooking the mysterious Reach, a fog swept expanse stretching all the way to the horizon. His guardian’s final words, and the actions of a mysterious bird named Esme, are about to lead Moth into the Reach and the lands that lay beyond...
All sorts of legends (of what lies beyond the Reach) are about to be proved correct and Moth must somehow fight his way free from the most dangerous threat that Calio has ever faced...

First of all, I’ve got to say that ‘Starfinder’ sucked me right in from the first page and kept me reading the whole way through. There is a lot going on with elements of mystery and action combining to form a plot that crackles with excitement and keeps things flowing well. Things are set up for a sequel but ‘Starfinder’ also reads well as a stand-alone novel. The characters are all very accessible (although not likeable in some cases) and Marco makes sure to take time to let his reader know exactly what is going on in their heads.

I also enjoyed the setting that Marco came up with to set his story against. It’s a ‘two settings for the price of one’ scenario with a steampunk style culture meeting a fairytale fantasy realm and the culture clash that follows offers a lot of food for thought. How would you react if you found out that all the fairytales of your childhood were true? It’s interesting to see Moth and Fiona’s gradual acceptance of their new surroundings…

An explosive battle rounds things off very well but something still wasn’t sitting quite right with me. Thinking about it, I realised that it wasn’t so much the book as the person reading it…

‘Starfinder’ is a fantasy novel aimed at a young adult audience and the bottom line is that I’m just not a young adult anymore, haven’t been for quite some time in fact! My problem was that I found while certain devices (in the book) should work very well for their target audience they just weren’t cutting it with me. They’re not what I’m after in a book.

Moth is an orphaned boy with dreams of adventure and a strong desire to do the right thing, just the kind of character that young boys would enjoy reading about. Marco doesn’t leave the girls out though. Moth’s travelling companion Fiona is a teenager (also orphaned) with low self-esteem, issues around being abandoned and a love/hate relationship with her Grandfather. I could certainly see this character appealing to young female readers who experience similar issues...
These are just two examples of plot devices that are used specifically to aim the book at a younger audience. In this respect the book does very well indeed and I can see how (and why) young readers would enjoy this. Like I said though, I’m not a young reader and, as a result, the book didn’t offer me much to identify with…

I won’t be giving this book a mark purely because I’m equally torn between the two viewpoints. As much as I enjoyed the book (which I did) it just wasn’t for me. At the same time though, I think Marco has been very clever in writing a book that will appeal to its target audience.
What I will say though is that ‘Starfinder’ has convinced me to give Marco’s ‘The Jackal of Nar’ a go in the very near future. If he can write for adults as well as he’s written for young adults then I could be in for a treat…

3 comments:

Dave said...

Good review, thanks Graeme. :-) John actually blogged about the YA-angle a few days ago, quite ironic. :-) I've read Jackal and it's a great book, sets everything up nicely for what promises to be a great series, I'm sure you'll enjoy it. :-)

ediFanoB said...

Thanks for review. I think I don't go for this book. But a few weeks ago I bought JACKAL OF NAR by John Marco after reading some interesting reviews:

Speculative Horizons

Fantasy Cafe

SF Site

It seems that the Tyrants and Kings trilogy is the better choice for me.

Purple Butterflies said...

Sounds like an intriguing read. I wonder why some YA books are so well loved by adults and others we jsut can't into.

DW Golden
Soar with Fairies in a new young adult novel: Purple Butterflies