Review: The Name of the Star

I was at a bit of a loss as to what to read when this book was mentioned in a post by a BookTuber that I follow. She said she’d enjoyed it and so I thought why not, let’s have a look and see if it appears interesting enough to commit to. It did, so I got myself a copy and here I am.

The Name of the Star tells the tale of Aurora ‘Rory’ Deveraux, a native of Louisiana in the US who is spending a year in London studying at a small co-ed school while her lawyer parents teach at a university in Bristol.  When she arrives the main talk of the town is a couple of murders that appear to be recreating the crimes of Jack the Ripper, the infamous serial killer of Victorian London. Rory’s new school, Wexford, just happens to be a stone’s throw from the sites of the original Ripper killings so she and her school colleagues cannot help but be drawn in by all the attention. One day after an incident at lunch she discovers that she has developed the ability to see ghosts. After another murder is committeed she realises that she has seen the killer. From there she is drawn deeper and deeper into the heart of the mystery. 

This is going to sound quite strange but while reading this book I kept getting an unsettled fidgety feeling. I would run hot and cold on the desire to continue reading and it took me a while to work out the reasons why. 

The first (as best as I can describe it) is that the book has a very odd mix of genres. It starts as out almost a contemporary YA story – Rory arriving, settling in and adjusting to this new stage in her life, making friends and possibly finding a boyfriend. A typical book of which there are many. Then it gradually moves towards being a murder mystery – who is the ‘New Ripper – with Rory and her friends doing some sleuthing. Then it performs a complete 180 and moves off in a direction quite unexpected – that of a supernatural ghost adventure. Now I say unexpected as I didn’t know much about the book’s plot when I started so it was a surprise to me. These changes in genre all seemed to happen at a very slow pace as well. It wasn’t until a fifth of the way into the book that the killings emerged from the background to take much more of a central role and almost half way through before the nature of the supernatural elements were revealed. My Kobo was saying 30% read before we even got any kind of a hint of something otherworldly. I must say I was scratching my head quite a bit. This led to something of a stop start feel to the narrative with the same scenario happening to me. I would think … right, this is it, we’re getting somewhere now … and then we’d stop and go somewhere else. It got a little frustrating and I think prevented me from getting a grip on the story.

And this leads onto reason number two. This is the first book in a series with two more published and others planned. I feel strongly that it suffered from the need to set the scene and establish the rules of the world that the events were going to take place in. You know – first in a series book syndrome. It was still doing this deep deep into the story and it felt like an age before the author was satisfied and we dove into the action connected to the heart of the mystery – who was the killer and why was he committing these crimes. The drag created by this situation almost made me put the book down several times for good but enough interest had been generated for me to continue reading. It would be interesting to know if books two and three move at a quicker clip with the ground rules already having been set. I can understand the need to take time world building in a high fantasy book for example but I do feel it was unnecessary to take quite so much time with a book set in contemporary London.

HOWEVER those things said … when the story finally got going and we entered into the chase for the killer it was good. The book became exciting and scary, just what I had been hoping for for what had felt like a long time.There were some very creepy, unnerving and spine tingling moments scattered throughout. Characters watching the second of the murders take place on backup CCTV footage is a case in point and the revelation of the back story of the ‘mad ghost killer’ actually made me shiver a bit. The crimes themselves are quite brutal which adds a streak of grittiness which is fitting in some instances but felt odd in comparison to others. And I felt happy (if that is the right word for it) with the unveiling of the final explanation … up to a point that is. I did think tended to being overly complex and could possibly have been striped back. And thinking over the whole plot again there were one or two things left unexplained. How did the ‘New Ripper’ lure his early victims to their deaths and how did he get some of the names of the modern victims to match that of their 1888 counterparts? 

Luckily the book had a likable main character in Rory. Because of her age she could have been annoying or sarcastic to a degree that would have made her hard to cope with but that didn’t happen, which was good, and very beneficial for my experience of the story. She was sassy to be sure but in a funny, endearing and somewhat understated way. I’m not a huge fan of moody flighty young women as the main protagonists in YA books – At my age I am past all that to be honest. The ‘fish out of water’ moments (as an american trying to acclimatise to the ways of the English) were a lot of fun especially when it came to food (I want to eat what she was eating!). And with not being from England she had a sense of ‘otherness’ which was of course exacerbated when her gift manifests itself. 

There were one or two other things that I found myself raising an eyebrow at but, in the end, I put them down to the nature of the YA category of fiction and moved on. 

For me reading this book was a bit like an exercise in frustration. When it was good it was good, but I wished it had a better idea of what kind of tale it wanted to be and to have done that at a much quicker pace. I think that would have made the whole thing hang together better to be a more satisfying read.

Rating: 3 Stars

(Header Image: Sarah Kreig)