Starborn by Lucy Hounsom
Publisher: Tor, 2015
My Rating: 3.5/5
Synopsis: Kyndra’s fate holds betrayal and salvation, but the journey starts in her small village. On the day she comes of age, she accidentally disrupts an ancient ceremony, ending centuries of tradition. So when an unnatural storm targets her superstitious community, Kyndra is blamed. She fears for her life until two strangers save her, by wielding powers not seen for an age – powers fuelled by the sun and the moon.
Together, they flee to the hidden citadel of Naris. And here, Kyndra experiences disturbing visions of the past, showing war and one man’s terrifying response. She’ll learn more in the city’s subterranean chambers, amongst fanatics and rebels. But first Kyndra will be brutally tested in a bid to unlock her own magic.
If she survives the ordeal, she’ll discover a force greater than she could ever have imagined. But could it create as well as destroy? And can she control it, to right an ancient wrong?
As I said in a previous post, I was pretty excited to get my teeth into Starborn after Lucy Hounsom gave a talk at my university. Hounsom, a clearly avid fantasy fan, pitched the novel to us as a somewhat epic/high fantasy adventure for adults. However, those hoping for a myriad of strange creatures will be disappointed. Different races are hinted at, and there is of course magic, but ultimately the novel takes on a more Game of Thrones feel in that the human aspect is prioritised over warring races and talking creatures. However, magic is still at the forefront of this novel, revolving around a magical system that uses the sun and the moon, as well as the stars. I would also pitch this novel as more of a YA/adult crossover. There isn’t a cheesy YA romance, but the protagonist is a teenage girl, so I believe the novel would be suitable for older teens and adults alike.
It is clear from the outset that Kyndra is special. The novel follows the typical structure of village girl discovers she has powers. However, what power Kyndra has is not really revealed to us until 400 pages in, long after the reader has guessed it for themselves. This was a little annoying for me; I just wanted someone to come out with it already before I got even more annoyed with Kyndra’s obliviousness. I couldn’t quite believe Kyndra could really be that dumb and not work out what she was. She spent a lot of time denying it even though the facts were all there and she’d clearly accomplished things no regular mortal could. She is a feisty heroine at times, but sometimes lapses into being rather bland as plot takes precedence over characterisation. However, there is certainly room for Hounsom to develop Kyndra in the upcoming sequel, Heartland.
But what about the other characters? Kyndra is chiefly helped along in her quest by the mysterious Bregenne and the caring Nediah. Bregenne is a blind woman who wields Lunar power, Nediah her Solar counterpart.
Bregenne began as cold and intriguing and I was excited to see what dynamic she would have within the novel. However, Bregenne doesn’t seem to develop, but actually recedes somewhat. Suddenly, she isn’t this hard, troubled woman, but fragile and weak. There didn’t seem to be much reason for this change and I found myself frustrated with the character development.
Nediah, however, was developed much better. He provided some comic relief, but was also a rather complicated character in terms of the women in his life. There’s no romance between Kyndra and Nediah, but their dynamic is very interesting in the way it progresses, as they seem like siblings and I found myself enjoying their scenes together. He is a willful character, portraying a vaster range of emotions than Bregenne.
Other interesting characters include the sly and sarcastic Kait, and the ambiguous Medavle, who readers will encounter throughout the novel.
Also, the identity of Kyndra’s father is a clearly important mystery right from the beginning of the novel. I found the reveal an interesting plot twist that I didn’t see coming, much unlike Kyndra’s destiny.
I’ve given this book 3.5/5 because, whilst I really did enjoy it, and found it difficult to put down at times (despite the sometimes slow pacing), I found there was much room for improvement in terms of characterisation and world-building. Whilst the world-building throughout is quite unique, it needed some more explaining to be properly understood. Hopefully, Hounsom will develop both Kyndra and Bregenne in the next novel. Hounsom actually read an exclusive extract from the sequel for us at the reading and, whilst the scene involved new characters, I found it really interesting and can’t wait to see how the next installment develops on the first.
If you’ve read Starborn, let me know your thoughts in the comments!