Robyn Reviews: The Forest of Stars

‘The Forest of Stars’ is an enjoyable, if dark in places, middle grade novel about a floating girl who finds a home in a magical circus, but finds her new home under threat from a hidden foe. The mystery elements are relatively predictable, but the atmosphere and found family elements are lovely.

All her life, Louisa has been hidden away by her mother. Her bones are full of too much air, so she glides around without her feet touching the ground – and a wind too strong could blow her away, just like her father when she was young. When her mother dies, twelve-year-old Louisa is left to fend for herself – but the world is dangerous for those who are different. However, her fortune changes when she receives an invitation to a mysterious carnival. The carnival is full of those who are different like her. Louisa finds herself torn between making the carnival her home and going in search of her missing father. Her decision is complicated when a mysterious magic starts attacking the carnival’s residents, leaving Louisa and her friends to track down a hidden foe.

Louisa is a sweet, naive girl, loyal to her friends but hindered by a lack of knowledge of the world. She also has little to no control over her magic, regularly drifting into the sky then finding herself unable to come back down. For a child so young, Louisa has experienced a lot of grief,and the way this is handled – with a twist of fabulism – is excellent. Louisa isn’t the strongest protagonist, but she’s likeable enough and her determination to do the right thing is admirable.

The fabulism is the strongest part of the book. The magic those at the carnival possess, from Louisa’s floating to Mercy’s control over shadows, is great, but there are other elements too, like the love bugs which appear any time anyone is sad. All these elements are well woven into the narrative, adding to the atmosphere. The fabulism has a darker twist than in many books – rather than a fortune teller, there’s a misfortune teller – and this works well, lending gothic undertones without ever being too much for a child.

The main weakness of this story is the plot. There are two core mysteries – Louisa’s missing father and the mysterious foe targeting the circus – and both are relatively obvious from an early stage. Admittedly, this is a children’s story, so the elements being obvious to an adult is not necessarily a bad thing, but the hints dropped could be more subtle. The denouement is still satisfying, but it lacks the shock factor that would really elevate it to the next level.

Overall, ‘The Forest of Stars’ is a fun, creative children’s book with some lovely found family elements. Its not the most original storyline, but the magical elements make it an enjoyable read.

Thanks to NetGalley and Titan Books for providing an eARC – this in no way affects the content of this review

Published by Titan Books
Paperback: 11th May 2021

Book Review: Fleabag and the Ring Fire

fleabagringfire

Fleabag and the Ring Fire, by Beth Webb, is the first book in a fantasy adventure trilogy aimed at 7-11 year olds. It introduces the reader to Gemma the kitchen maid, Rowanne the lady knight, Phelan the thief, and the incorrigible Fleabag, a three legged talking cat. Together this unlikely trio set out on a quest to find the Fire Ring, a symbol of power which has been hidden after the old queen died without naming a successor. Only one who is worthy will be able to find the jewel, and Gemma has been tasked with authenticating it when returned.

Gemma is only ten years old and has never before left the city of Harflorum where she was plucked from the streets as a young child and given a job in the palace kitchens. Her life has not been easy, mainly due to the cruel cook under whom she must work. The responsibilities she has now been given come close to overwhelming her. She does not understand how someone so ordinary can be of importance to the realm.

The mysterious Fire Wielder, who even the queen venerated, tasks Rowanne, a pompous Knight of the Queen’s Guard, with protecting the child. This proves to be a challenge for them both. Gemma’s only friend in the palace was Fleabag, the queen’s disreputable cat. He is a useful ally and advisor to the girl but is hated by Rowanne. The feeling is mutual.

The group set out on a long and difficult journey. They travel through cities where the populace are mistreated by a cruel prince, ignored by pontificating academics, and terrorised by a fearsome beast. Even when their party is joined by Phelan, a boy who chose a life of crime after he was orphaned, they seem little match for the forces they must face. They have a year and a day to find the ring before its magical fire goes out and chaos descends.

In Harflorum, the Fire Wielder placed a little of the ring fire in Gemma’s care. Phelan has some knowledge of this strange force and helps Gemma to use the power she has been given. Gemma recoils from the responsibility, yet steadfastly pursues the task she promised her beloved queen she would complete.┬áThe denouement is satisfying with the story being wound up but questions remaining for the next two books in the series to answer.

The writing is straightforward but not simplistic. There is plenty of action to keep this age group engaged. The fabulous illustrations of key characters scattered throughout the text add to the visual appeal. Fleabag is wonderful, a cat of the highest calibre despite appearances.

This is a reworked edition of a story first published in 1995 when it gained many young fans. The text has been tightened and new illustrations added to create a gorgeous book wrapped around a world where magic and dragons are more than just myths.

I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in this tale. A treasure trove for young people, highly recommended.