YA Weekend: A Dark and Hollow Star by Ashley Shuttleworth
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Book 1 of A Dark and Hollow Star
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (February 23, 2021)
Length: 512 pages
Lately, I have become much more circumspect about the YA books I pick up, especially debuts. However, there were several things going for A Dark and Hollow Star which made me decide to throw caution to the wind and just go for it.
But first, this book is an urban fantasy style story about the Fae. For hundreds of years, they have lived among humans in secret, using their powerful magics to successfully shield and hide themselves even in a bustling, built-up metropolitan city like Toronto, where the Unseelie have actually established their Court. Unfortunately, that fine balance is now in jeopardy, threatened by a series of ritualistic killings pointing to a possible serial killer on the loose—one who is specifically targeting Ironborn, the half-fae.
An Ironborn herself, Arlo Jarsdel has cause to worry. Even though she is descended from the royal fae bloodline through her mother, her father is a mortal, and her human heritage means she has yet to manifest any magical powers with which to defend herself. Caught between the two worlds, Arlo doesn’t feel like she belongs anywhere, and for the longest time, her only close friend was her cousin. However, that was before she meets Nausicaä, a mysterious Fury who had been exiled to earth for an unforgivable crime. But in truth, Nausicaä is on a mission of revenge, hunting the real culprit, and after the Fury saves her life, Arlo agrees to help her in her quest.
Meanwhile, out in the Nevada desert where the fae of the Seelie Court dwell, Prince Vehan is determined to prove his worthiness for the crown he must one day wear. He and his guardian Aurelian Bessel have caught wind of the Ironborn killings and believe that they are part of larger plot to further destabilize the peace between the fae and mortal realms. Together, Arlo, Nausicaä, Vehan and Aurelian must prevent the coming war from tearing their worlds apart.
As always, I’ll begin with the positives, and undoubtedly one of the strongest aspects of A Dark and Hollow Star is the world-building. While faeries in urban fantasy stories are nothing new, the sheer number of factions and characters involved in this book ensured a steady flow of interesting court dynamics and intrigue. It’s also clear that the magical systems and rules for Fae powers were inspired by certain gaming mechanics, particularly tabletop and roleplaying games, which are close my heart.
And speaking of topics that are near and dear to me, it thrilled me how so much of this novel took place in Toronto and read like a love letter to my hometown. The author made the setting come to life with her rich descriptions of the diverse neighborhoods and cultures of the city, displaying a natural talent for creating a breathing, pulsing milieu.
Now, as for what I thought could have been better, the characters immediately come to mind. Like so many new authors, I think Ashley Shuttleworth mistakenly believes that having good diversity equates to having good character development. The queer and transgender rep notwithstanding, I found these characters rather bland. When it comes to their personalities, they’re virtually indistinguishable from of sea of other angsty brooding YA protagonists that are riddled with clichés, not to mention they’re your typical boilerplate depictions of the Fae.
Then there’s the plot, which was full of bloat. Clocking in at more than five hundred pages, this book is significantly longer than your average YA novel and urban fantasy, and no wonder, given the amount of unnecessary repetition and overly elaborate description. The ham-fisted infodumps and other problems that stemmed from this resulted in unstable pacing, which also affected my enjoyment.
All in all, A Dark and Hollow Star was a mixed bag, with as many flaws as there are strengths. On the whole, overused character tropes and genre clichés made this one a run-of-the-mill YA fantasy, though to its credit, the book did get a lot of important things done right and will no doubt appeal to readers who are specifically looking for those aspects which it has to offer.