Frederic S. Durbin,
The Star Shard
(Houghton Mifflin, 2012)

I read a lot of children's fantasy, and a lot of it is stunningly mediocre. While much of Frederic Durbin's The Star Shard comes off as faintly familiar, it has enough originality and sensitivity to be a step above the usual. The setting is a huge mobile marketplace known as the Thunder Rake, which houses merchants, livestock, non-human creatures and slaves. Cymbril, a 12-year-old orphan, is one of those slaves. Her job aboard the Rake is to sing at markets and draw crowds. She loves singing, but dreams of freedom and wonders about the two magical objects left to her by her parents: a jeweled hairpin and a glowing stone.

Cymbril's life turns upside down when a new slave is brought onboard the Rake. Loric is a young Fey boy who can see in the dark and do magic. It's not long before they meet and embark on a daring escape plan that takes them into the darkest corners of the Rake and into the secrets of Cymbril's past.

The plot is just a little flimsy, and some of Cymbril's hidden past is easy to guess, but the scenes on the Rake are vivid and thoroughly imagined with quirky residents, dark corridors, conspiracies and magical secrets. My favorite scene of the book is the Night Market, which is reminiscent of the magical, perilous Wall Market of Neil Gaiman's Stardust. Although the pace is more stately than typical action-packed children's fantasies, the world-building is the better for it. The author even includes the lyrics and music to two of the ballads Cymbril sings. Since my music reading skills are rusty, I found myself singing "Blue were her eyes" to the tune of Martha Tilston's "Red" from Bimbling.

The writing is smooth and characterizations are decent; Cymbril is a likable preteen who is naive but well meaning. Loric is more peripheral and literally spends most of the book locked up in a cell. I was pleasantly surprised by the sensitivity with which supporting characters are drawn, including the Urrmsh, the giant non-human creatures who keep the Rake moving, and the overseer Wiltwain. Even Master Rombol isn't so much evil as plain mercenary. I was a little disappointed by the ending, which is more about the power of friendship than the satisfaction of revenge, but it's growing on me.

Some loose ends about Cymbril's past leave things open for a sequel, though The Star Shard stands well on its own. At just over 300 pages, it's a pleasant read for young fantasy fans, if not necessarily one that will linger in the mind long after reading.

book review by
Jennifer Mo

23 March 2013

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new