May 19, 2009

Book Review: "Starfinder" by John Marco

If Starfinder is just the first in a trilogy, or even a series of titles, I may end up becoming a dedicated follower. Though I am far and away from being considered a young adult, which is the demographic this fantasy novel is aimed at, I am youthful at heart and have yet to lose my imagination and wonder. John Marco has stumbled upon a tale here that taps right into those facets.

The main character, Moth, has turned thirteen and longs to grow up so he can fulfill his dream of becoming a Skyknight, as mankind is reaching a technological age of flight never before imagined. Due to his modest stature in the world, he doesn't hold out hope to achieve his goals in the near future, though friends like Fiona, Skyhigh, and his guardian Leroux (a long retired member of the legendary Eldrin Knights) help him to hang on to his dreams.

The morning after his birthday, after being told yet another tall tale by Leroux in the middle of the night, Moth finds himself on a secret mission to fulfill a promise Lereux made to an old friend from the other side of the fabled Reach—an expanse of mist and mystery between Moth's world and the world of the Skylords. With Fiona and Leroux's kestrel, Lady Esme, at his side, Moth crosses the Reach to find a world he hadn't dared imagine. But, Fiona's ambitious grandfather, Rendor, is in pursuit because Moth carries a treasure promised to an alleged wizard named Merceron.

And, that's just the first few chapters.

I will admit that the story had me shaking my head a few times during the first act, because I was having a heck of a time figuring out the motivations of some of the characters. There came a point, even, when I was tempted to put the book down because I felt the backstory was being ignored in a sense—not unlike some of those infernal episodes of Lost. Thankfully, Marco ties up every loose end I thought I saw, and in good time as the story progressed. The relationships between the characters are developed well, and when it appeared the story and the characters would take a—dare I say—formulaic turn, Marco gives his readers a view of three-dimensional, complex people (and that's a liberal use of the word given the creatures appearing in the story). No relationship in the book is a pat black-and-white archetype, as it all seems very genuine and plausible in spite of the extraordinary events unfolding.

Full disclosure, I won this book, rather than buying it at my local indy bookstore. That being said, I will heartily recommend Starfinder to any fan of YA fantasy or well-written tales of adventure. While Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy remains at the tippy top of my YA fantasy favorites, I don't think it is unfair to imagine there will be comparison between that trilogy and whatever John Marco has up his sleeve with this one.

As a side note, I really love the cover art by Tom Kidd. Every time I glanced at the cover when I picked up the novel to start reading again, I picked out some new minute detail relevant to the story. Nice stuff from another talented artist.

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