Thrust up on the sand, tender and bloodied as a baby, or something newly dead (328).
Caitlin Sweet‘s first novel concerns an eighteen-year-old who seeks revenge after Raiders kill her family. A Telling of Stars has a familiar premise, but it diverges from the traditional fantasy in its style and development.
Title: A Telling of Stars
Author: Caitlin Sweet
After Raiders slaughter her family, Jaele seeks revenge. Her physical journey to find the Raider responsible reflects on her emotional progress.
Sweet’s poetic style may prove difficult for some readers, but when it works, it can be very powerful. The third portion, detailing events in the Raiders’ Land and afterwards, features the book’s most stylistically powerful and consistently interesting chapters.
Despite some excesses, I wish more fantasy writers would give the kind of thought Sweet does to writing style.
To some degree, this story uses fantasy conventions to explore the journey a grieving person must make, and in this sense, Sweet’s world could be viewed as a fabulous metaphor. However, she also invites us to see that world literally, it as we might Middle Earth or Bas-Lag, and it does not consistently hold together. In a world that has seen wars and raids, everyone Jaele meets seems remarkably willing to welcome her into their homes and feed her, asking (and generally getting) little in return. This suits her character; teenaged Jaele acts very much like a child at times, albeit one who has experienced horrors. Teens often act with these expectations and, depending on the culture, have them met. However, the novel does not make this aspect of its world credible on the literal level, and I found it distracting.
Originality: 4/6. The protagonist embarks on a quest to seek revenge. She meets fantastic creatures and people along the way. Sweet approaches this in her own manner, but readers of fantasy will find the underlying plot familiar.
Imagery: 5/6. Sweet demonstrates her descriptive power in many sections of the novel. I wanted to know more about certain aspects of her world, which in places were lost amidst the poetic impressions of that world.
Characterization: 4/6. Jaele is a believable, if not always sympathetic character. The others people in this book never seem realized. Annial and Ilario have a believable relationship of a sort not often seen in genre; Dorin has potential which the novel never really explores. Most of the characters speak in a similar, high fantasy manner which impedes our understanding of individual characters.
Emotional Response: 4/6. When the book works, it works very well. I did not find it did so consistently, but I am convinced of Sweet’s potential…
Overall score: 4/6 …And I believe we will see some exceptional work from her in the future.
In total, A Telling of Stars receives 30/42
Sweet herself suggested I review her second novel first. I chose to start with A Telling of Stars. While certain aspects of the book did not appeal to me, the potential it demonstrates will lead me to read the second novel soon.