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ARC Review: The Star Shard

my thoughts in a few sentences: I've found myself with another spectacular read, you guys. In the same week! An engrossing, fascinating tale that is as imaginative and reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki's beautiful stories, including Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle, The Star Shard is a wondrous fantasy read that reminded me why I adore the genre so much and granted me characters I was surprised, but thrilled, to love.

imaginative first line: "To say that the Thunder Rake was a wagon would be to call the sea a puddle, for the Rake was a fortified city, full of workshops and stables, houses, towers, gardens—even a rippling canal."

Rating: Special Shelf | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt • NetGalley • Fantasy • 2/28/12 • about $14

Twelve-year-old Cymbril is a slave on Thunder Rake, a gigantic wagon city that rolls from town to town carrying goods to be sold by its resident merchants. The Rake’s master purchases a new slave, a mysterious boy named Loric who is one of the magical Fey. Because he can see in the dark, Loric’s duty is to guide the Rake through the treacherous wilderness at night. Cymbril and Loric secretly join forces to plan their escape—soon the two friends thread their way through a series of increasing dangers, encountering an enchanted market and deadly monsters as their one chance for freedom draws nearer.
As a general rule, I do don't do middle grade (MG) books. I thought I found them lacking somehow. However, from the moment this title called to me on NetGalley, I suspected something would be different in The Star Shard, and my intuition was spot-on. Or maybe I just have an irrational prejudice against MG books and my eyes have now been opened. Thankfully. The Star Shard is a story that "tackles the issues of slavery and freedom" (book description), but it isn't only that. It spotlights growth and the potency of kindness and a nightlight-sized spark of romance in the burdening shadows. More, the fantastical world-building is a soft, compelling voice that takes us through and tells of a vivid, magical world, one so thoroughly built, we almost refuse to part with it. Between the perfectly named objects and people and the fascinating creatures that walk the Rake, we find ourselves completely enraptured.

Cymbril and Loric. These two characters are such deeply good, genuine, curious people who are beautiful and so perfect together, as friends or as a potential couple. Cymbril has always been heartbreakingly lonely, yearning for escape from the only home she's ever truly known. But only so much happiness can find her when she's a slave forced to sing for her supper and overall care. Though she is not treated harshly, no person should be considered less valuable, less worthy of respect than the next. Still, she is endearingly attached to Urrt—a tender giant man who is responsible for propelling the Rake onward—and Miwa—an abnormally intelligent, loving feline, two dear friends whom have looked after her since the start of their friendships. Cymbril is quick-tempered and endearingly nosy, a notorious meddler who is constantly trying to cure unintentional hurts and make amends. She is inclined to help others before herself, and although she wants to escape with Loric—the newcomer who is actually Fey and Cymbril's newfound friend, her first priority is to set him free, even if that means she has to sacrifice her own freedom to accomplish that. Their quick friendship begins with a few inquisitions on Cymbril's part, continuing on to helping each other and learning more about one another. And the shy and sweet subtle gestures of romance promise for an inseparable relationship in the near future.

The plot travels slowly to start but then builds up in intensity, crackling with heart-pounding mysteries, cunning maneuvers, and unexpected battles with magical creatures harboring wicked ulterior motives. Sorcerers and witches, transforming animals, and Fey lore rolled into one creation propels this amazing storyline. Unquestionable loyalty constantly proves itself a strong force and incites so much emotion from us, Cymbril to Loric, Urrt and Miwa to Cymbril, and surprise allies make a remarkable appearance, striking the plot with an 'OH YES! YOU'RE ALL HERE!' factor that stirs our smiles and our hope for a bright future ahead.

The smiles don't vanish when the end is upon us. No, a light, happy ending awaits us, closing the book in one wide profound and wrenching sweep that leaves us fully, almost foolishly, pleased. I couldn't have asked for better!

"Why are you so eager to help me?" she asked.
He gazed back strangely, as if puzzled by the question. "Isn't that what people do—help each other? We're all part of one another."
"From what I've seen, most people don't help others unless there's payment involved or they're forced to," Cymbril said.
"You're making me shiver," said Loric. "This world is cold, this place of few stars..." (32%)

"Don't hurt yourself."
Cymbril sagged back, gasping, and clenched her fists. "You have to go," she said. Even now, Rombol's men would be racing down ladders, pouring from the bottom hatches.
Loric smiled again and squeezed her wrist. "When we go," he said, "we'll go together."
Now Cymbril couldn't hold back the tears.
With a sudden, nervous flicker in his gaze, Loric leaned close and quickly kissed the side of her head.
As she turned a wide-eyed glance upon him, he hurried out...(69%)


Heidi said...

You had me at Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle!  I do love good MG lit, and read it fairly regularly, so I'll certainly be checking this one out.

Asher_Knight said...

I imagine the book will be really enjoyable for you knowing that you typically read MG books. That's awesome! I hope you enjoy it!