Monday, January 3, 2011

Review: StarCrossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce

StarCrossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce
Genre: YA Historical Fantasy
Pages: 368
Publication Date: October 2010
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Source: Star Book Tours
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Description (from the publisher):
Sixteen-year-old Digger thrives as a spy and sneak-thief among the feuding religious factions of Llyvraneth, dodging the Greenmen who have banned all magic from the city. But when a routine job goes horribly wrong and her partner and lover Tegen is killed, she has to get out of the land, fast, and hides herself in a merry group of nobles to do so. Accepted as a lady's maid to shy young Merista Nemair, Digger finds new peace and friendship at the Nemair stronghold - as well as plenty of jewels for the taking. But after the devious Remy Daul catches her in the act of thievery, he blackmails her into becoming his personal spy in the castle, and Digger soon realizes her noble hosts aren't as apolitical as she thought… indeed, she may be at the heart of a magical rebellion.

This is one of those books that I thought sounded interesting when I read the description, but it turned out to be even better than I had expected!

Digger is a sixteen-year-old girl who has been living on her own for several years, and has become a thief to survive. Despite the failed job that the book opens with, Digger is good at what she does. As the book progresses we learn more about Digger's talents for lying and blending in. On the run from the failed job that she believes killed her partner, she is picked up by a group of aristocratic teens and she adopts a false identity as Celyn, orphan of a successful merchant and convent runaway. A series of events results in her becoming a lady's maid to one of those teens, Merista Nemair, a timid girl who is so much more than meets the eye.

Magic has been outlawed in this world, and anyone suspected of having magical powers is interrogated and executed by an Inquisition-like religious order. Digger found herself an unwitting aid to this order when she was a young child because she possesses the ability to see magic in other people. She was horrified by the experience, and tries to avoid anyone with magic because of that. Her fugitive circumstances, however, require her to have daily contact with just such a person. And as she becomes closer to those who would overturn the current intolerant political/religious atmosphere in favor of allowing magic to return to the kingdom, she learns that maybe she isn't as averse to magic as she once thought.

Digger (a.k.a. Celyn) was an intriguing and complex character. You're never quite sure if you can trust her as a narrator, but you can tell that her experiences as the book advances are definitely testing her values and formerly-held beliefs. She is a tough girl because she has to be that way in order to survive, not just to make a statement for girl power. That aspect of her toughness felt believable and realistic. The discovery that she had once been employed as a spy for some of the aristocrats she was encountering in the book was an interesting twist, as were the spy-duties she was blackmailed to perform in this adventure. The revelation of her brother's identity was another interesting twist. Most of the other characters in the book were pretty complex too--they weren't always what they had seemed at first glance, and I thought it made the story much more interesting.

The world that this book is set in was extraordinarily interesting to me as well. The political intrigue and the conflict among the different religious factions grabbed my interest, and as I read I found myself looking at the fictional events of this book and drawing comparisons between them and historical events of similar importance and magnitude to our own world. It was this realistic portrait of a world in turmoil, even though it includes fantastical magical elements, that I think made it even easier for me to connect to.

The action in this book could be a little slow at times, but I thought it provided reasonable build-up for what was to come. I wish I could have read all of the book in one sitting, but it was a bit too dense to devour at once. I don't think it's one of those books you can speed-read without missing important hints and details. And since this is the beginning of a series that I am now fully committed to following (the next book will be Liar's Moon, which is currently in the editing process), I didn't want to miss any important details. Yes, Liar's Moon is definitely on my radar. When I finished StarCrossed I couldn't help musing on what the future holds for Digger, her friends, and the entire kingdom.

With StarCrossed, Ms. Bunce has succeeded in building a detailed and alluring world with believable religious tension, fascinating characters, and a story that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat. This was one of my favorite fantasy reads of 2010. If you are a fantasy fan, I recommend it!

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