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Book Review: Starfinder by John Marco

# Genre: Steampunk, Epic/High Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
# Hardcover: 400 pages
# Publisher: DAW
# Publication Date: May 5, 2009
# ISBN-10: 0756405513
# ISBN-13: 978-0756405519
# Author Website: John Marco

In John Marco’s new novel Starfinder, two preteen children are thrust into a world of magic and danger, forced to fight angelic beings known only as the Skylords. Moth and Fiona, the protagonists have grown up in a 19th century world of trains and flying airships. Fiona’s emotionally distant grandfather, the inventor of the amazing flying machines known as the dragonflies, has always harbored a fear of the Skylords that live beyond the Reach – a cloudy expanse the people from Moth and Fiona’s world are forbidden, even unable to cross. But when Moth’s aged benefactor Leroux dies, Moth and Fiona embark on a mission to save his pet bird, Lady Esme, who is not a bird at all but a woman Leroux once loved whom the Skylords changed into a kestrel. Moth and Fiona must cross the Reach and find Merceron, a wizard who can change Lady Esme back.

Marco has written a story that many young readers will greatly enjoy. It has protagonists with which young readers will identify. Moth and Fiona each suffer from some sort of loss, but each deals with it differently, a point that provides a great deal of the human interest of the story.

As well, because the world building in this story requires a great deal of suspension of disbelief, the story is more ideally suited to readers whose critical faculties are less developed, and more willing to lose themselves to the story, rather than critiquing the faults. As an adult reader, it seemed odd to me that people had rarely crossed the Reach, and that a human world of technological marvels would allow itself to be stopped by a cloud bank. This makes sense for the plot, where the technological marvels come into direct conflict with magic and so needed to be segregated for the purpose of the narrative. But it makes for world-building with gaps that anyone of a critical bent will drive a Mack truck through.

Fiona and Moth’s character development is done in very unsubtle fashion too. This is not altogether a bad thing, but is more ideally suited to a younger reader rather than an adult one. Of course, there are those readers who like their characterization to be simple and not complex, and this is an ideal book for them, as the motivations and feelings of Fiona and Moth, and the secondary characters as well, are on a more surface level rather than nuanced.

Marco does write a lot of action into the tale. Fiona and Moth’s quest is an arduous one, and they encounter a whole lot of stumbling blocks in their quest, not least of which is an inability of many of the people they meet to tell them any sort of truth. Plus, the Skylords are extremely powerful, and their minions almost as much as they. The final battle, which involves airships with guns, centaurs with arrows, and dragons with fire, is quite exciting in itself, and has some unexpected twists.

On the whole, Starfinder is ideally suited to a young adult reader. It is a steampunk novel in one sense, but in another it is almost a pure epic fantasy with dragons, centaurs and the angelic Skylords. This unique mix of magic and technology will interest young adults who have read Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl or Phillip Pullman. Its characters will resonate with preteens and teens, and it is easily approachable reading with its short chapters. Marco’s first foray into more youthful fantasy has his trademark writing style, and fans of his adult novels will now have something they can share with their older children.