A fun and engaging read!
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 24 June 2016
To put a disclaimer at the start of this review: I'm not the target demographic for this book so while I will say whether I think it works well or not, I can't really say I speak for the people this book is aimed at (9-12 year olds).
With that disclaimer out of the way, let's get started! I've followed the Star Darlings franchise from the outskirts for a while, and was happy when this omnibus came out since I'm not personally fond of having to collect numerous smaller chapter books. I had no idea about the quality of the writing, because what drew me to it was the artwork, so I went into this very blind. To summarise before I get into all the detail: I'm really surprised and happy at how good this turned out to be!
I won't repeat the product synopsis, but to let you know what the series is about without all of the universe-specific lore and buzzwords; it's a cross between the girl's school life genre and sci-fi, with a little magic and some good morals that aren't overworked. Each book in the collection follows a specific girl out of a group of twelve as she's embroiled in an adventure. Interestingly - and the thing that really makes it stand out I feel - is that these twelve girls are aliens whose stories see them have interaction with humans.
I have so few issues with this book and the stories within, that I'll list them first to get them out of the way.
- I feel like the writing is good in that it is invisible - the sentence structure is well-composed and it flows without you being jarred out of the narrative at any point - the downside of this is that the writing also feels like nothing to write home about. Although there's lots of text expanding the alien world the protagonists live on, it's more like a somewhat descriptive bullet point list rather than an actual experience of an alien world. It's still suitable for 9-12 year olds in my opinion, but if your 9-12 year old is onto more complicated books like Ruby Redfort or the WondLa trilogy (to name some wildly different examples!), these stories might feel overly simple. There isn't a huge amount to invoke the imagination in these stories unless the reader is already creative to the extent that they'll start adding their own input regardless, I feel.
- The sci-fi isn't handled the best, which is an enormous shame given how rare it is to find sci-fi aimed specifcally at the 9-12 girls demographic, rather than 9-12 year olds in general, or of course to boys. There are times when the text is a little too desperate to reaffirm the protagonists are aliens, by having them jump to unnecessary observations/judgements about earth repeatedly. Focusing on how strange the protagonists find Earth-life is a great idea, but I don't think having them constantly think to themselves "How strange!" is a particularly effective or impactful way to do it.
- For the same reason, the stories are a little too predictable, and it's a bit too easy to be able to see what the twist will be long before it happens. Perhaps it's due to it being a character-based franchise, but the stories are a bit paint-by-numbers, and are too quick to present you with the clues to the mystery in comparison to other books for the same demographic. It means you spend more time waiting for the protagonist to catch up with you, rather than following along with the protagonist.
The above are my major concerns, and why I haven't given the full five stars, but it's also important to note that mileage may vary. My problems with the sci-fi in this book are more due to my background of being a sci-fi fan, and I would sooner recommend the WondLa trilogy over this for an engaging sci-fi story aimed at the 9-12 demographic for being a more complex and satisfying story to read, with a far more fleshed out world.
That said, for the same reason I actually think the simplistic sci-fi in this book just may be its secret strength, because it would make a very engaging first sci-fi book series. If you have or know a young girl who feels exempt from sci-fi and doesn't feel they can engage with it, this could really be a fantastic and exciting set of stories to start them off on. Because of the simpler language, it's much more accessible than the other examples I've given, and works both as a more casual read, and as a more comfortable read for less confident readers.
For that reason, most of my issues with the book are entirely subjective, and again your mileage may vary.
As for the good: I have to say, these stories are a lot more thrilling than I expected! The first story in the book is definitely the weakest, which is a shame for first impressions, but the quality and intrigue rise drastically with the second and third stories. While the first story is more of an introduction to the world and the premise, the second and third stories are when the REAL overarching plot gets started. They're very engaging, and really pick up momentum in world and story building. Each of the three girls in this volume are well handled, feeling distinctly different from each other. I particularly liked Leona, whose loud personality would easily (and likely) be written off as arrogant or conceited in other books, but is allowed to shine as a positive thing here. While all three had relatively similar mysteries to solve, it never felt like I was reading through the same thing as before - there was a good amount of variation to the situations.
Also, whilst I previously complained that the mysteries are too easy to solve, this is generally the case for the "Earth" portion of the stories. The "alien" portion is much much more intriguing, as it is building up a mystery over the course of the series, rather than starting and finishing it within one story. Whilst I still have some frustrations with the writing presenting clues too obviously, it's handled in a much more exciting way and doesn't leave me feeling annoyed that the protagonist doesn't notice connections that are made exceedingly obvious to the reader.
In all, I think this is a satisfying read, a great 9-12 entry-level sci-fi series with a lot of potential I hope will come to the surface in future volumes - which based on the strong finish of this volume, I will definitely be buying. I would highly recommend buying this in this omnibus format too, as it really allows the stories to be stronger as a whole rather than be presented individually. A fun and engaging read, and one I think is well-suited for the demographic!
3 people found this helpful