Strange Star


Strange Star was written by Emma Carroll and first published in 2016. It is middle grade novel which presents a fantastical account of how Mary Shelley found the inspiration to write Frankenstein. The novel stands alone and so you don’t have to have read any of the author’s earlier work to fully appreciate it.

June, 1816. The year that a bright new star appears in the sky, drawing a long tail behind it. Lord Byron invites four esteemed guests to Villa Diodati on the shore of Lake Geneva for an evening of ghost stories to chill the blood. For his young servant, Felix, it is an exciting night. Not only is it a good time to prove he is worthy of being Byron’s footman but he can also listen to tales told by some of the greatest thinkers in England.

Yet as darkness falls and a storm begins, there comes a frantic knocking at the door. Felix reluctantly answers it to find the body of a girl on the doorstep. Although Dr Polidori declares her dead, Mary Shelley is not prepared to give up on her. Through sheer force of will she manages to revive the girl, and the girl immediately accuses her of having kidnapped her younger sister. Horrified at the accusation, Mary denies any wrong doing, but the girl has a terrible story to tell.

As Felix and Mary listen, the girl – named Lizzie – tells a terrifying story of her own. One that began the previous winter in a small English village. It is a tale of freak storms and stolen livestock. Impossible science and the possibility of curing death itself. Although Mary is not sure if she believes Lizzie, her story is truly more terrible than anything that the writers could have dreamed of.

Strange Star is yet another strong novel from Emma Carroll and serves as an excellent way to introduce classic Gothic literature to a young reader. Frankenstein has always been a story that is largely misunderstood by those that have not read it. Most think of the 1931 James Whale interpretation, with the creature portrayed as a groaning and shuffling zombie. Emma Carroll’s book taken its inspiration from Shelley’s fantastic novel, arguably the most complex and influential science fiction stories of all time.

Many of Frankenstein’s core aspects can be found in Strange Star. On a superficial level, both are presented as stories-within-stories, a number of characters that share names and certain plot elements, such as a missing child and the death of a mother, are important to both tales. Yet the similarities run far deeper than this. The themes of coping with loss, the dangers of playing God and female empowerment are crucial to both stories and both are written in the same spooky style.

Yet the tone is always appropriate for younger readers. Strange Star is nowhere near as dark and bleak as Frankenstein, ultimately ending on a very positive note. Although book is a little creepy in places, it is neither too frightening or grim for middle grade readers. The novel reads as the fondest kind of love letter to its source material and leaves off in such a way that the reader is left wanting to learn more about Mary Shelley and her work.

The plot of Strange Star was fast paced and quickly built intrigue. While I won’t reveal too much about what happens here, the momentum increased throughout Lizzie’s tale, leaving the reader desperate to learn who is stealing animals from around the village and what the scientist is studying at Eden Court. I won’t spoil its twists for you in case you are planning on reading it, but I will just say that I found the book to be a gripping and addictive mystery story which really showed Carroll’s incredible ability to captivate a reader’s imagination.

Yet, as much as I enjoyed the book, I didn’t think it was quite as strong as In Darkling Wood. This was mainly due to the characterisation of Mary within the tale. This is purely my own opinion but I found her actions within the novel to be unrealistic, particularly her complacency with Miss Stine’s experiment and the “kidnapping” that follows. In real life, Mary Shelley is a sophisticated woman who tragically lost her child. Even in grief, I couldn’t imagine her behaving in a way that would actively endanger the life of another little girl. The reasoning behind this just felt a little weak.

However, it is the characters that are Strange Star’s strongest aspect. The main protagonist is Lizzie who is a simply amazing young woman. Life has really handed Lizzie lemons, leaving her bereaved, blind and badly scarred. Yet despite this, Lizzie is a phenomenally strong young woman. Despite her grief and disability, she does not allow herself to give in to despair and proves that, even without her sight, she is still more than able of protecting her younger sister. I loved the chapters where Lizzie, Peg and Mercy investigated the mystery of Eden Court together. The three girls play off and support each other so well that it’s impossible not to fall in love with them.

Yet Lizzie is not the only strong female character in this novel. The story also makes use of its time period to show what life was like for educated women. Miss Stine and Mary are both women who work hard to be recognised for their brilliance in their respective field, yet are forced to hide behind male pseudonyms to be taken seriously. Yet their desire to be acknowledged manifests in different ways. Ultimately, Miss Stine is ruined by her desire for fame yet Mary seems content that only a few know her true identity, raising an interesting question as to which is more important – achieving your goals for yourself or for the promise of celebrity.

The only character who was a bit disappointing was Felix. While the story initially introduced him as a free slave, he isn’t given a lot of time to develop. Ultimately, he is the Walton character – the one who’s life is changed because he listens to a stranger’s tale. I would have liked for his past to have played a little more into the story as he was just left feeling underused on the whole.

All in all, this is another brilliant novel from Carroll, who is rapidly becoming one of my favourite UK authors. Strange Star was a brilliant homage to Frankenstein, filled with really strong female characters. I can’t wait to see what she writes next.

Strange Star can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook from

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The Sobeks 2016 – Part 3 | Arkham Reviews

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