Starfinder is the first book in the Skylords series, a YA fantasy/steampunk trilogy by John Marco. It was just released in hardcover on May 5. After looking through other peoples’ reviews it seems like everyone has already said the same things I was thinking as I read this one. But since I review everything I read I wanted to post my review anyway, though I don’t know how much it adds that is different from what has already been mentioned.
Moth, an orphan, is cared for by Leroux, a sickly former Eldrin Knight who tells crazy stories about the land beyond the Reach. On Moth’s thirteenth birthday, Leroux tells him he has a very special gift for him that he will tell him about after his party. That night Leroux reveals that Lady Esme, his pet kestrel, is not actually a bird at all but rather a woman from the land beyond the Reach who was transformed by the Skylords. Leroux loved Lady Esme and has unsuccessfully tried to find a way to turn her back. Now he tells Moth he must use his gift to do what Leroux could not – take Lady Esme to her homeland, find the wizard Merceron, and turn her back into a woman. Moth eventually agrees to get Leroux to stop ranting and raving but dismisses the information as yet another one of the elderly man’s tall tales.
In the morning, Leroux is dead, having finally succumbed to old age. Moth goes to visit a neighbor then comes home to find the apartment being ransacked by Rendor, the governor and a great inventor. Rendor leaves without finding what he is looking for, and Moth finds a place to hide out where he is found by Lady Esme, who brings him a strange device. Moth decides to go to the the land across the Reach and his closest friend Fiona, the fourteen year old daughter of Rendor, insists on accompanying him on his quest to free Esme.
Starfinder is a short, quick read containing lots of short paragraphs and dialogue. The writing did seem choppy at times with somewhat short sentences that didn’t flow together well, especially toward the beginning. As I got further into the book, I didn’t notice this quite as much, although the writing does remain more simplistic than the average young adult novel I’ve read.
The story moves at a good pace and is entertaining. The main characters do not have an overwhelming amount of depth but they did not seem completely shallow or lacking in individual personalities, either. The two main protagonists balance each other nicely – Moth is a dreamer and an optimist who wants nothing more than to fly while Fiona is hot-tempered and has a more pessimistic outlook on the world. The two children were the more believable characters in the book (and not just because some of the others were birds who used to be women). There were a couple of characters who had a change of heart or turned out to be different than they had initially seemed and I found the way they were handled rather unconvincing.
Starfinder combines steampunk with a more traditional fantasy setting. Calio, the city in which Moth and Fiona live, is on the cutting-edge of technology with the invention of the dragonfly and other flying machines. The land the two children end up in on their quest to rescue Lady Esme from her fate contains mermaids, centaurs, dragons, and of course the Skylords.
If I were a young adult, I believe I would have loved this novel. It’s still an enjoyable tale, but the combination of the overly simplified writing style and the feeling that it doesn’t stand out from other books read before may make it appeal to older readers less. Starfinder combines elements that will feel very familiar to someone who has read a lot of fantasy – the quest, a magical object that can only be used by one person, the mythical world thought not to exist is real, orphaned children play a large role in events in a fantasy world. There were some parts that reminded me of fantasy books in general and there was one section that immediately made me think of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass. However, I do think Starfinder would be a fantastic book for
converting introducing younger readers to fantasy.
Starfinder is an entertaining adventure story reminiscent of many other fantasy stories. Its may not be as engaging to an adult reader due to its average characterization, very simple writing, and overly familiar plot elements, but it is a great book for a younger one.