This was DENSE. And a bit overdone on the dialogue, if I’m honest. But was it something that kept me propelled, interested and aware of its unique potential? Yes. I am very intrigued to see where this series could go in future books.
Balance of action vs. dialogue: ★★
World building: ★★★★★
A fallen Fury, an alchemist, some Fae, a reaper, a few gods, and some other beings walk into a bar...
Like the setup for a Dungeons & Dragons plot joke, A Dark and Hollow Star is one dense boy that feels almost comedic in its self-aware density. They thicc, in other words. If you, like me, appreciate a good mashup of concepts that weave together established fantastical elements into something new—keep reading.
(This is a reaction review.)
I'm not quite sure what I initially expected when I bought A Dark and Hollow Star in the bookstore. It's been a few years and the memory is hazy. I remember the word "Fae" piqued my interest—an eternal buzzword for me—and then the element of a murder mystery in the blurb kept my focus.
It's not often you get the words "Fae" and "murder mystery" in the same setup for a YA book.
So I bought it, and then it sat on my shelf being intimidatingly large for a YA debut (this thing is 500 pages-ish).
And I wondered why I didn't see people talking about this book.
Well, having traveled to the other side, I now REALLY understand why this book has existed on the edges of the YA scene. It's... a lot. And frankly, I kind of wish this had aged up its characters and been produced as an adult paranormal series—because I believe that adult audience would have understood more of this novel's quirks, whereas the action-based YA market might not have been the best.
With its accessible paranormal fantasy-style snarky dialogue, modern-day setting, and immediately likeable characters, this book started out strong for me. I was intrigued and captivated by the clever mashup of paranormal fae + Greek mythology Furies + other semi-spoilery elements. The opening third of this novel was a slam-dunk, one-sit read.
But then, I felt this novel buckle under the weight of its own structure and collapse a bit in the middle. Snarky dialogue and random, mundane character moments can only get you so far when the stakes are as high as they are in this book. And combining so many fantasy elements + character POVs... you've got to eventually let this story's action propel us into something bigger. And I felt like that was A Dark and Hollow Star's weakness.
"Weakness" might be a bit harsh, however, because unlike many, MANY other fantasies in the saturated YA market these days, this novel brought some titans to the table in terms of its character development, unique world building set-up, and promise of future plot development. Even when I disliked the pacing and lack of momentum, I couldn't put this book down. (I've DNF'd dozens of books for much less, so my staying power to complete this book is, in itself, some of my highest praise.)
I look forward to seeing where this story leads in future books. And I'm crossing my fingers that the jumping-off point at the end of book one leads to some adjusted pacing and development in the later books!
SMALL SPACES - Katherine Arden
Sometimes the creepiest tales are the ones meant for children… this is one of those, but with a soft enough edge to keep things light and cozy. Save this one for the fall season!
Spooky vibes: ★★★★
Ollie's life is something she is deciding Not Thinking About. Things have happened. Ollie's of the opinion that if she doesn't look too closely at the details, things will be manageable. Or at least, more manageable.
Then a weird woman by Ollie' favorite spot by the lake tries to throw away a book—one of Ollie's most favorite and precious types of items—and Ollie can't let her do it. She steals the book from the crying, upset woman and runs away with it. The fact that the woman's rambling about darkness and evil... Eh. Ollie's not looking too closely at the details.
But maybe Ollie should have looked at the details.
As she finds herself diving into the book's story about Beth, two brothers, and an unnatural series of events, Ollie's starting to see some odd parallels between the book's setting and her hometown.
And the next day, Ollie's class takes a field trip to a local farm. Where things get terrifying. Fast.
Now it's up to Ollie and a few friends to save the day and escape before it's too late...
Small Spaces is a book that I have had on my radar for a longgggg time. Definitely since its debut in 2018. It's spooky? Check. It's about the fall time and involves scary scarecrows? Check. It's written by Katherine Arden? CHECK.
Don't ask me why I waited so long to pick this one up. I have no answers, and now it's one of those books that I wish I'd read earlier. But hey, we're here now! And it was just as a good as I'd hoped it would be.
This falls into that wonderful category of middle grade reads that feels like its meant for all ages. Both suitable for its age group (8-12 years old, I believe) and the rest of us older people, Small Spaces has that quality of atmosphere and timelessness that will likely make it a perennial classic in the realm of Halloween reading. I know I will be recommending it broadly!
Make sure to leave room on your autumnal TBR pile for this one... and watch out for the smiling man :)
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.