The Name of the Star

the-name-of-the-star

The Name of the Star was written by Maureen Johnson and first published in 2011. It’s a paranormal fantasy story which focuses on a teenage girl who is drawn into a supernatural murder investigation. The novel forms the first part of the Shades of London series and is followed by The Madness Underneath (2013) and The Shadow Cabinet (2015), as well as a prequel novella titled The Boy in the Smoke which was published for World Book Day 2014.

Sixteen-year-old Aurora “Rory” Deveaux is thrilled to be leaving Louisiana to study at a real London boarding school. It’s always been her dream to visit England and she can’t wait to get stuck into her new life. However, she arrives in the city at a terrible time. A brutal murderer has just struck, replicating Jack the Ripper’s first murder to the tiniest detail, and London is rife with gossip as people wait to see if he will kill again.

Although her new friend Jerome is fascinated by the case, Rory is more interested in focusing on her difficult classes and overcoming her culture shock. However, this proves impossible when the Ripper strikes on the school grounds. To make it worse, Rory might well be the only witness to a crime. She had thought it odd to have seen a strange man in the square but the weirdest thing was that her roommate, Jazza, claimed not to have seen anyone.

Following this encounter, Rory’s life just gets weirder and weirder as she continues to see people that no one else can. When she is approached by a strange young policeman who seems to want to help her, she starts to realise that nothing is as it seems. She has abilities that might just be able to catch the Ripper. But who will be his next target, and how do you stop someone that isn’t exactly human?

Let’s get the important stuff out of the way before I start to ramble. Despite its subject matter, The Name of the Star isn’t as violent as you might imagine. However, as you are probably aware, Jack the Ripper wasn’t the neatest of serial killers and this novel does describe some of his murders. Even though it doesn’t go into all the grisly details, you might want to give this one a miss if you’re in anyway squeamish. I should also note that this is a paranormal story. I just thought I’d make that clear here as I notice in the reviews on Goodreads that this came as a disappointment to some readers who went into it expecting a realistic thriller.

In all honesty, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this novel as much as I did. I don’t know what it was about its blurb but something just made me think that this wasn’t going to be the novel for me. I’m happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised. On the whole, the largest issue that I had was with its pacing. The novel was incredibly slow to start as the first few chapters were just solid exposition. Rory narrated about her life in New Orleans, the family she was leaving behind and the way that the English school system works.

While none of these were hugely important in the greater scheme of things, it’s the last one that I found the most jarring. As you may have noticed, I am from England and therefore none of this information was new to me. Maybe an American reader would have gotten a little more out of it but I just found myself skimming ahead to get to the good stuff. Yet, I still really admire how much research Johnson evidently put into the story. From the history of Jack the Ripper to the layout of the London tube stations to general English attitudes (we do love baked beans). Nothing in the story felt artificial or conformed to your typical English stereotypes, which was really refreshing. Generally, you can tell when a non-English writer is trying to blag what they believe life over here is like but Johnson got the London experience spot on!

As Rory settled into her life at Wexford School, the novel was quick to draw me in. While the book was never scary, it carried a creepy tension which was utterly compelling. While the first part of the story was played as a fairly straight thriller, the supernatural elements become increasingly apparent in the second half as Rory is drawn into a world where spirits move unseen through the streets of the city, occasionally causing trouble for oblivious humans. I won’t spoil too much for you here but there is certainly a lot to enjoy if you’re a fan of shows like Supernatural or just ghost stories in general.

The mystery elements of the plot were competently handled and I really like how Johnson integrated seemingly innocuous details into the tale early on which were of deep significance later. Plot twists weren’t heavily foreshadowed and so some of the eventual turns in the story took me by surprise. The only thing that I wasn’t overly keen on was the ending. While not an especially bad cliffhanger (the plot concerning the Ripper does seem to have been concluded), it did leave some pretty major things unexplained. Hopefully, these will be explored further in The Madness Underneath.

In terms of character, I really couldn’t ask for a better protagonist than Rory. Her stream of consciousness injected a surprising amount of humour to the tale and I found her very easy to relate to. She’s realistically written and full of personality, being a wholly average girl who has found herself mixed up in a very weird series of events. In fact, all of the teenage characters felt right. The little dramas of Rory’s schoolmates – like Jazza’s rivalry with Charlotte – really helped to make the setting feel genuine.

However, I did wish that more of the secondary cast had been developed. While Rory’s school friends and the Ripper were all pretty well fleshed out, a number of important characters were not introduced until halfway through the story. While I did find them interesting, I would have liked to have learned more about them and so hope that they all make it into the next novel of the series.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by this one. While it’s not perfect, it contained a realistic depiction of London, a compelling plot and a fantastic protagonist. I will definitely be on the look out for the rest of this series – look forward to hearing more in a future review!

The Name of the Star can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The Madness Underneath / The Boy in the Smoke | Arkham Reviews
  2. Trackback: The Shadow Cabinet | Arkham Reviews

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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