Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Review: Starfinder by John Marco

John Marco has been quietly gaining a reputation for writing solid fantasy novels with his two previous trilogies – the Lukien Trilogy and Tyrants and Kings. His newest book, Starfinder (US, UK, Canada, IndieBound), kicks off a new series, Skylords, and should appeal to a younger audience.

In a early-industrial world with a distinct steampunk feel to it, the Governor of Calio builds an aerial armada to defend the lands from what most consider a mythical threat from across the forbidding mist bank known as the Reach. Moth is a 13-year old boy working at the aerodrome who dreams of one day becoming a Skynight and pilot of the flying machine known as a dragonfly. He is an orphan living with an old, half-crazed Eldrin Knight, Leroux, who is full of magical stories from across the Reach. Moth’s life changes forever with the death of Leroux as events set him on a course to cross the Reach and explore a magical world full of mermaids, dragons, and the dangerous skylords.

Starfinder is Moth’s book, but he does have a companion on the journey – the Governor’s estranged 14-year old granddaughter, Fiona. Fiona’s story is equally compelling and cliché as Moth’s and the interaction between the two is both a strength and a weakness. The dialogue of both Moth and Fiona often seems a bit advanced for young teens and the total lack of sexual tension seems off the mark. However, Marco does portray a good coming-of-age story for both Moth and Fiona.

Two aspects of Starfinder prevented me from enjoying as much as I should have – the relative lack of cross-over appeal and its inability to distinguish itself from the fantasy masses. Starfinder fits firmly into the world of YA fiction, and I think it’s a great book for that market. However, unlike many YA books being published these days, Starfinder doesn’t have the same level of cross-over appeal for the adult audience. While Marco tells a fun and engaging tale, it was too formulaic and too focused on themes more often associated with teens than other ages. As a result, Starfinder failed to distinguish itself from other fantasy out there – sure it’s a well told story, but without that something extra, it didn’t rise above.

So, the bottom line is that Marco tells a good story in Starfinder, but it’s a story that I found solidly aimed at the YA audience with little cross-over appeal for adults. It’d be a great book to pass off to a teen and a great introduction to fantasy, but probably won’t appeal much to a more mature audience. 6/10


James said...

Ken, I don't quite understand your criticism about the lack of appeal for adult readers - as you've noted, this is clearly a book aimed at a younger audience.

You've even said that it's a great book for younger readers, yet you seem to score it down mainly because it didn't appeal to you as an adult.

This just doesn't quite make sense to me, it feels suspiciously like you're marking it down simply because its a YA book. Apologies if I've got the wrong end of the stick, it's a bit late after all...

Interested to hear your own trail of thought on this one!

Neth said...

No worries James, I’ll happily expand my thoughts a bit.

First – don’t get hung up on the ratings. I’ve said my thoughts on them in a number of places, and I basically don’t care for them. I’ve only kept doing them for two reasons – because I started doing them and I want consistency, and because it allows me to play with the statistics of my ratings. The rating reflects my overall enjoyment of a book – so the rating is entirely consistent since it didn’t appeal to me.

In terms of disliking it just because it’s YA, I have to disagree. I’ve read and reviewed a number of books that are marketed toward the YA audience (search the YA label on the blog) and I have enjoyed a number of them. Also John Marco told me himself in an email that he considers it a book for all audiences, not just a YA audience. I think I explained myself well in that I think a younger audience will enjoy this book much more than an older one – it’s an opinion that I’ve seen in other reviews as well.

Unknown said...

Cool idea, but I thought the plot and character motivations were a mess.

James said...

Thanks for the further explanation Ken. If we take the angle that Starfinder is a book intended for all age groups (with particular focus on younger readers) then I accept your criticism is valid.

Cassandra Jade said...

An interesting review of the book (though I was confused at times as to whether you were supporting it or not). Reading the previous comments it has become a bit clearer.


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