Monday, 28 January 2013

Book Review: Starflower by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

I was blessed to receive this book through a contest held by another blog. That being said, the fact that it was free does not affect the review I'm giving it.

When a cursed dragon-witch kidnaps lovely Lady Gleamdren, Bard Eanrin sets boldly forth on a rescue mission . . . and a race against his rival for Gleamdren's favor. Intent upon his quest, the last thing the immortal Faerie needs is to become mixed up with the troubles of an insignificant mortal.

But when he stumbles upon a maiden trapped in an enchanted sleep, he cannot leave her alone in the dangerous Wood Between. One waking kiss later, Eanrin finds his path entangled with that of young Starflower. A strange link exists between this mortal girl and the dragon-witch. Will Starflower prove the key to Lady Gleamdren's rescue? Or will the dark power from which she flees destroy both her and her poet rescuer?
-image and summary from

When I received this book in the mail, I was so excited that I had to restrain myself from tearing into it right away. It held promise of all the aspects I enjoy in a novel: adventure, far-off lands, mystery and wonder, and a dash of the fairy-tale and romance.

And Starflower brought it all, as well as its own unique flavour. While not boring by any means, the story is not driven by action. Instead, it delves into character--not simply the beings, whether mortal or Faerie, but the very lands in which they dwell, as well. One could practically smell the lushness of the jungle-type atmosphere Starflower grows up in; the Merry Halls of Rudiobus become ingrained in one's mind. And the fallen city of Etalpalli IS a character--a very wrathful, dangerous creature. The way Stengl wrote the scenes in which the very streets do not stay still.... it gave me shivers.

And if you're the type of reader who wants action in a novel, well, it's definitely here. Whether it's facing demonic wolves, running from a giant hound, or leaping off bridges, there is something there for everyone. But the action is not the sort that precedes and overwhelms the substance. Starflower is a novel to be savoured for the layers it weaves. Eanrin's quest--and Starflower's--are treated as tiny pieces of a much larger puzzle. Even when the book ends, the story is not finished.

That being said, while this novel is the fourth in the series, "The Tales of Goldstone Wood," it is a prequel to all the other books, and can therefore be read as a standalone. I had only read the first in the series, Heartless, and I was not only able to follow this book quite well, but its characters are even more deeply embedded in my heart than those of Heartless! Eanrin and Starflower--also called Imraldera--are two of my favourite fictional characters of all time. 

Imraldera, for me, is like the True Pocahontas. Disney's version of the courageous Native American princess always bothers me with its inaccuracies. Starflower is much how I picture the real life Pocahontas--not so much character-wise, per se, but in their essence: faith, beauty, love and strength all bound into one--and the courage to face the past of their people and embrace the good there while rejecting the bad.

And the minor characters--not to mention the villain--capture your heart and pique your interest. Hri Sora, one of the main villains, is complex in that one moment you hate her, and the next you feel such pity that you wonder how such a pathetic woman could ever be an actual villain. Glomar, Eanrin's rival, and Gleamdren, Eanrin's 'love,' are equally vibrant. While Gleamdren is loud and obnoxious at the best of times, there are scenes where she is actually clever and tolerable, and one is able to see what she could be. And that, seeing people for who they might be, is a major theme in this novel.

If you couldn't already tell, I loved this story to pieces. I could ramble on and on about its themes, but that's something every reader should discover for themselves.

One thing I must say is that the novel was far too short for my liking. I wanted Eanrin and Starflower's journey to be longer, for more time with them and the world they live in. As well, there was one part that I couldn't quite make sense of, but I'm sure the following books will help shed light into the matter. 

That's the beauty of this series--it's so intricately connected, with little things in one book meaning much more than they seem! I can't wait to read more of this series--look out for the upcoming Dragonwitch this summer, and Shadow Hand to be released early 2014!

Five stars!

Friday, 11 January 2013

Out of One Story and Into Another

As a writer, I always struggled with longer stories. Staying committed to one plot, one set of characters, one turbulent, disgustingly-bad draft for over 300 pages drove my inner perfectionist crazy. Multiple ideas have been started and discarded, and when I first started Ice Roses, I thought it would be like any other. The story wasn't as close to my heart as others I cannot wait to write (but which must wait for me to catch up to their Big Plans), but God knows best.

Writing Ice Roses, I fought against uncertainty and doubt. Through this novel, as rough as it may be, I learned to PERSEVERE. Tackling things head-on and plowing through them even when you want to give up and weep is what finishes a novel. God taught me to embrace the tough times and get through them. I know the lessons I've learned writing this book will not only help me with future projects, but also when facing difficulties in my personal life.

Already I feel more mature and ready to take on my next writing project. Already I feel a little bit less like a child and more like an adult (believe me, these feelings have been a long time in coming).

So with great joy and bafflement and wonder, I am pleased to announce that I have reached one of my New Year's Resolutions: I finished the first draft of my first completed novel. Ice Roses ended up being around 92,000 words; roughly 350 pages in my word processor. And now I am going to write another novel, and hopefully get close to finishing it by the end of 2013. I have a feeling 2014, Lord willing, will be the Year of Revisions!

***While I wish I could take credit for the title of this post, it is pulled from a line in The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, I believe--such a beautiful, melancholy little fantasy novel. Honestly, it has the depth of an allegory and the bittersweet beauty of a fairy tale.