Curse of Stars

Curse of Stars was first published in 2017 and is Donna Compositor’s debut novel. It is a dark fantasy story about a teenage girl who is captured and kept prisoner by the lord of a distant world. The book forms the first part of the Diamond Crier series, yet at the time of writing no future instalments have been announced.

Sabi Perez and her sister Matti live a pretty uneventful life. Although her parents can be overbearing, Sabi is really just a typical New York teenager. However, when a strange man appears at her home, she starts to realise that she’s far from ordinary. He is Javier Goquin, ruthless overlord of the planet Raydin, and she is the last Diamond Crier. Sabi’s parents brought her to Earth to escape from him, yet now he has come to take her back so that he can harvest her priceless tears.

Ripped away from her family, Sabi is thrown into Javier’s dungeons and her life becomes a cycle of starvation and suffering. Although she finds a friend in her cellmate, Anya, she slowly starts to realise that she will soon die as Javier’s slave. Her only hope is Cabal – a slave that has earned some iota of trust and independence due to his strange powers. As Sabi belongs to the same clan as Cabal, she hopes that she can also learn to harness the same magic.

Working together, Cabal helps Sabi to unlock her potential and the two quickly hatch a plan to escape. Yet doing so is fraught with danger. Their homeland of South Fair is weeks away on the other side of a deadly expanse known as the Void. Even if they manage to survive the journey, there is no guarantee that they will be welcome there. Not after Javier punished their kin for allowing Sabi to escape all those years ago…

It’s disclaimer time again! As I already said, this is a dark fantasy novel and so contains a lot of things that some readers may find distressing. Curse of Stars isn’t the most objectionable novel that I’ve reviewed but it does contain bad language and scenes of gore, torture and sex. It also contains a couple of particularly distressing scenes when Javier expresses his plans to have Sabi raped to produce more Diamond Criers. You have been warned.

I don’t like slamming indie novels, yet I unfortunately did not enjoy Curse of Stars at all. I was attracted to this book by its blurb and, to be fair, I still think that the concept of the story is salvageable. The idea of a far-off world where tears are a precious commodity is wonderfully original and I was curious to see how Sabi and Cabal could use their rather unusual powers to escape captivity. In principle, this could have made for a very interesting fantasy novel. Unfortunately, Curse of Stars really failed in its application.

The story is told entirely in third person with its perspective fixed firmly at Sabi’s shoulder, and the first few chapters did catch my attention. It’s only a matter of pages before Sabi’s first encounter with Javier and transportation to Raydin. Yet it was also here that I began to see the first problems with the story. Javier quickly exposits what is going on and Sabi does not have a clue what he is talking about but dares not question him. Trouble is, this means that the reader also only has a vague grasp on what’s happening. Over the chapters that follow, this lack of investment only grew worse due to the almost complete absence of descriptions.

It’s clear that Compositor has some really grand ideas but her world-building is nowhere near strong enough to support them. Even though Javier presumably transported Sabi across the galaxy, there is no evidence of technological advancement. Raydin doesn’t seem to be far removed from Medieval England. There are horses and wolves, and the people who live there are described as being human. Okay, possibly glowing humans. “Glowing” is the one adjective that Compositor uses in abundance. Everything in this world seems to glow, including eyes, skin and teeth. I couldn’t quite decide if this was supposed to be literal or not.

The plot of the book was quite simple, and yet it was made more complicated by the author’s excessive purple prose. This is in part a personal thing, but I find it hard to stay invested in a story when an author uses several words where one will suffice. Take for example this somewhat mixed metaphor. To put it in context, the character has been riding a horse and is now walking on aching legs:

Each progressive step was a little better than the last, the Jell-O freezing into something more solid and less like the legs of a baby calf that just slid out of the womb.

Context doesn’t help so much in this case, does it? Because of the way in which this story was written, it never truly hooked me. While there were a number of unpleasant and fast paced sequences (particularly in the first hundred pages of the story), I found that the over-elaborate written style often muddied the action and thus made it incredibly hard to follow. This was also not helped by the fact that I have no idea how magic works in this world. Sabi’s people are supposed to use earth magic, yet she can shatter bones with a touch and create elaborate illusions. What does that have to do with the earth?

The ending of this novel was also underwhelming. While it wasn’t exactly a cliff-hanger, it also didn’t offer a lot of closure. The plot really slows down once Sabi and her friends reach South Fair and a final confrontation with Javier is shoehorned into the last twenty pages. Ultimately, this amounted to very little. It didn’t really lead to any shift in Sabi’s character and left a lot open for the sequel, leaving this volume to be rather forgettable on the whole.

However, the thing that I struggled with the most were the characters. There aren’t many named characters in the story, as Sabi leaves her family behind in the first couple of chapters and doesn’t meet a lot of her new allies until the very end of the book. Really, there are only four characters of note – Sabi, Anya, Cabal and Javier. Unfortunately, I didn’t like any of them.

Javier has no redeemable features at all. He’s just a cookie-cutter villain, motivated by greed and willing to torture and kill anyone to get what he wants. Yet the protagonists aren’t much better. All three of them are very shallow, not really possessing any personality traits other than what Compositor tells us they should have.

Take Sabi for example. Sabi was apparently motivated by her desire to get back to Earth. However, I didn’t realise that this was the case until a god came down from on high to exposit this fact halfway through the book. She barely mentions her family at all, even though her father may have been killed at the start of the book (I’m not 100% sure on this one). Similarly, Sabi fluctuates between trusting Cabal with her life and accusing him of being devious. Really, I’m not sure where this came from either. Cabal never really does anything untrustworthy. He even risks his life to help her free Anya, despite the fact that he doesn’t think this is a good idea.

Anyhow, I think you probably get the picture. There is an interesting concept buried within Curse of Stars, yet it’s smothered beneath layers of poor descriptions, weak prose and unmemorable characters. Even if you’re a fan of dark fantasy novels, it’s still not really one that I’d recommend.

Curse of Stars can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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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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