Here be Dragons

Pauline’s Review (posted 2/14/13)

I don’t read many young adult books, but I do read everything by Andrea K Höst, so this was a must for me. It’s the author’s first venture into post-apocalypse fantasy, and it begins, literally, after the apocalypse – the very instant after, as main character Madeleine finds herself amidst rubble from a disintegrated underground station. Rubble and dust, in fact, vast amounts of dust which coat everything, including Madeleine herself. And as she makes her escape through the ruined station, she encounters the base of the Spire, a black spike, which has instantaneously risen into the Sydney skyline, along with numerous others all around the world.

The early chapters of the book show a world divided in two – those who, like our heroine, have been exposed to the strange dust and begin to develop patches of colour on their bodies and unusual powers, and those who have not yet been contaminated. People know by instinct that the dust is something to avoid. One of the iconic moments of the book for me is the vivid image of Madeleine emerging from the train tunnel and climbing onto the platform of the next station down to escape, coated from head to foot in the mysterious dust, while passengers on a stopped train, staying safely enclosed beyond reach of the dust, peer through the windows at her in horrified pity.

As with all books of this type, survival is the first priority, and this part of the book is fairly conventional. Madeleine meets other survivors of the contamination, they begin to organise themselves, and use their ingenuity to avoid being hunted down. Naturally, there are constant threats and near-misses, but the gang is smart, and finds some pretty imaginative ways to hide and to provision themselves. Some of this is predictable and some is very ingenious, but although the plot burbles along quite nicely, it all felt slightly ho-hum. I think this is probably because it’s YA, and quite an extreme YA book at that. All the main characters were teenagers, without a single older person (bar one in his twenties, later on), and the hide and survive plot made it seem almost like an Enid Blyton adventure – the Famous Five, only with romantic angst and a bit of sex thrown in. Although the characters were all interesting enough in their way, the uniformity of age made it a little flat for me.

But then, just past the two thirds point, there’s a moment which changes everything, one of those magical OMG moments when your perception simply shifts sideways to open up the story in innumerable different ways. I love it when an author manages to do that to me. The ending is less magical and more prosaic, but still an enjoyable page-turner, and the epilogue – well, I’m never keen on epilogues, but that’s just me. I can see the need for it here, however.

I was worried at one point that this was going to be a disappointment to me, but in the end the strong opening and that wonderful twist saved the day, and left me mulling over all the implications. I never fully engaged with the characters or the romantic entanglements early on, but eventually there was a great deal of depth to the story, and some of the issues raised buzzed round in my head for days. I liked, too, that the characters weren’t the standard issue beautiful people who leaped into perfectly honed action when called upon. These were relatively ordinary people with odd combinations of talent and weakness. Problems were solved by intelligence, common sense and teamwork, rather than brute force. Nor was everyone uniformly heterosexual. An interesting and thought-provoking, if slightly uneven, effort. Four stars.

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Nathan’s Review (posted 3/1/13)

Black towers thrust from the ground all around the world, spewing a dust that settles all over. Madeleine Cost finds herself covered from head to toe, and fully expects it to be her eventual death. Not sure what to do with her last days in the apparent apocalypse, she goes to her cousins house and starts to paint.

But she doesn’t die, though at times early on she feels she might. Instead she finds that she has turned blue where the dust touched (although midnight sky, complete with stars, would be more accurate). She has an incredible appetite. And together with a new group of friends facing the same issues, she is going to be thrust into a battle for survival.

I think I can see why fans of Höst are so ardent in their support. A completely original concept, I can’t think of anything that even compares. It is impossible to talk about the details of this book without spoilers, but trust me it is unique. Take out the main plot details, and what is left is still completely one of a kind. We see cell phones and webcams in the apocalypse. There are large swaths of people who may not be unaffected, but at least have a visible way out if they show patience. And while young adult novels usually focus on youth (duh), Höst gives one of the more plausible reasons for a lack of adults I have seen.

“And All the Stars” is a quick paced book, with several big reveals spaced throughout to keep up the interest. While it has plenty of action, the focus is about Madeleine and her new group of friends putting their heads together to solve problems. Some of the answers are fairly simplistic, but that is forgivable in a YA book. And while I had some advanced warning, the final reveal was fairly jaw dropping to anyone invested in the characters.

Perhaps it was the YA nature of the book, but I wasn’t completely enamored with everything. Specifically I had trouble caring about any of the characters except Madeleine. Her new best friend seemed likable enough, and had some nice interactions with Maddy. But outside of that, teen romance, will they/won’t they relationships, and other trappings of current YA. Höst did manage to give a more diverse cast than I am used to; several ethnicities are present, and strait isn’t the default for everyone. But despite that the kids still fell into set character types; the imp, the leader, the victim, and the tough.

As unique as the book and setting was, and I want to make clear it was well put together, I didn’t buy the whole premise. I feel that either too much or too little of what caused this unique event was explained. I was given just enough information to see holes in the execution of it. I also wondered how long utilities and infrastructure could really remain running when most people are hiding from magic dust in their houses or out in the countryside.

So here is how I see it. A smarter than average YA tale, with a completely unique set up. A strong protagonist who stays pretty self-reliant. But it doesn’t quite escape some of the YA trappings and most of the characters bored me. I think most of the failings I see could be expecting too much from a young adult book as an adult, but that is the only way I can read it. Really want to try some of the author’s adult novels; I think they may work better for me.

3 stars.

Copy received through NetGalley

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Comments on: "Fantasy Review: ‘And All The Stars’ by Andrea K Höst" (3)

  1. Great review, I agree that “holy shit” moment changed everything for me! I now put everything Andrea has ever written on my must read list 🙂

  2. Andrea has been on my 'must read' list ever since I read 'The Silence of Medair'. The two Medair books, and 'Champion of the Rose' are way up there on my list of best fantasy ever.

  3. Nathan, I'm glad you enjoyed this, even with some reservations (which to some extent I share). For me, the author's adult books work better. She has to be one of the most original writers around.

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