Disclaimer: It’s no secret to some of my social media followers that I love stars and star-based characters. No, I’m obviously not into things like astrology or horoscopes, but starry, elven-esque characters in general fascinate me. Just ask an author who helped boost this love of starborn characters, Ms. Sarah Delena White, author of The Star-Fae Trilogy, or better yet, Casimir the misunderstood but utterly brilliant (pun intended) Solasa (star-fae), who I helped broadcast into STARdom, being his favorite minion and head of Team Solasa on Earth and all. 😉
Okay, enough with the astral puns. (Although, Casimir really is the star of his show, haha…)
Lately, I’ve been just as intrigued by the elven starpeople, the Startouch Elves of Xadia in the franchise, The Dragon Prince. (It curdles me inside every time I hear, “Startouch,” and I need to resist the urge to grab said person, shake them like a crazy lady, and yell, “It’s Star-FAE!!”) The only Startouch elf we’ve actually seen so far in the series is the enigmatic, charismatic, notoriously psycho sparkle, Aaravos (who is a “special bundle of special” if I ever saw one…), who seems pretty insidious in regards to other characters and the overall storyline, but I’m looking forward more to learning more about other star-fa– sorry, STARTOUCH– elves, as well as their mystical, exquisite and elaborate, big-picture culture. What was the life of other Startouch elves like, being that they were distanced from Xadia? Where did they live? How did they function up in their starry space, as a society? Unique skills or pets? How did they view Aaravos’s actions, and if they disapproved, did they consider intervening (or if they did intervene, is that why none are left– did he purposely wipe out the rest of his kind??)?
It should be clear by now that I’m not obsessed with things like the mythological constellations themselves, but more of the star people they influence, and the ethereal cultures they leave behind.
So when I saw Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar in former Book of the Month’s YA selection, I absolutely didn’t hesitate, regardless of me not knowing all the character or plot details. All I could think was, “A book about a child born of the stars? A daughter of a star-person? SIGN. ME. UP.”
Little did I know what I was going to get into.
SPOILER WARNING: PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK
Things to Know:
Hindu mythology, deities mentioned briefly, here and there
Hindu terminology, you may need to Google things (I did)
Minor sexual tension in certain passages
Some LGBTQ+ rep (the MC’s bestie is either bi or lesbian; two of the MC’s competitors are gay)
Trigger warning: Anxiety and panic attacks
Summary: Sheetal is half-mortal, half-star (kind of like a star version of a dhampir, if you will), and struggles to fit in with mortals below on Earth. As a result, one day she is triggered by extreme stress, accidentally flaring her powers to life and harshly burning her father with her star’s fire, landing him in the ER in critical condition. Left with little alternative, Sheetal finally answers the call of her maternal side’s starry host, and ascends to the heavens with her BFF Minal in tow, determined to get a drop of pure star’s blood in order to heal her dad. But as she soon learns, nothing comes without a cost, in the heavens or on Earth.
Liked: Wonderfully descriptive. For some reason, I thought this book would be a teaser book, dangling the carrot of visiting the stars’ heavenly realms up above before cruelly snatching it away and letting us remain on Earth (I think my main subconscious reasoning behind this was that I was halfway through the 400+ book and we were still on Earth…). But I was soon rewarded for my patience with glorious details of sky palaces, a Hall of Mirrors, heavenly libraries and an ethereal people. It was magical, and I absolutely wanted more. More culture, more worldbuilding, just… all of it. I could drink her descriptions of the places; they almost felt concrete.
Speaking of descriptive places, let’s discuss the wonderful Night Market. It heavily reminded me of the spirit’s market in Studio Ghibli’s infamous Spirited Away, maybe fused with some of Diagon Alley from Harry Potter? It was like a Hindu version, though, and magic seeped through EVERYTHING. Shveta was so creative in all the details and showing, not just outright TELLING, all the cool things you could find in this bizarre, well, bazaar. Magical clothing? Check. Unique couches? Check. Unusually flavored magic ice cream? Check. Sentient cumulonimbus cloud barretts? Check, check, check! I would’ve LOVED to hang out more, and explore more, of this fantastical place that seemed between the physical and spiritual worlds, although I get why Sheetal was in a rush to get to her sky family. I just wished we could have lingered a bit more; it was great. I wanted to go out and visit, myself!
What could have been improved: For starters, a glossary. I’m not fully aware who Shveta’s group or target audience was– I suspect Indians or Indian-Americans, no offense intended– but there was a lot of terminology and Hindu words I did not understand, and had to constantly look up, even for foods (but especially for things like sayings or mythological creatures that aren’t common)! A brief glossary in the back with brief definitions/descriptions would’ve been more than enough to help readers unfamiliar with that world, language, culture, or context; even a few minor footnotes on translation would’ve been okay.
That as an aside, the story. I had very mixed feelings on Sheetal. She acted somewhat inconsistently; there were times she was selfish and shallow (especially in regards to how she looked, those were her biggest “problems” on Earth, aside from ignoring her star family, until her dad got hurt), but the author surprised me in having Sheetal make some startlingly mature decisions for her age, such as some honest discernment when it came to guys (she was accurate in how she portrayed those raging hormones!). I get that Sheetal’s a kind of moody teen, but the transition could’ve been a bit better. There were times it felt slightly jarring or out-of-place, although the author kept her emotions appropriately measured, most of the time, depending on the scenario.
Speaking of characters, the story’s resolution in and of itself felt unrealistic and shaky. Jeet could have easily been more of a threat (why DID he want Dev to meet Sheetal again? Oh yeah to uproot the competition, which fell pretty much over-the-top flat and went unaddressed), but his role was diminished to being SPOILER’S pawn. And SPOILER herself? She was a petty, vengeful star who wanted to SPOILER, but ended up just mwahaha-ing, and “oh I revealed this info, I’m good now,” and backing away mysteriously into the crowd, as though it was fine and wouldn’t fall back on her. And what about Nani and Chaurmati (I don’t know if I spelled that right?) and their potentially harmful goals? Are we just going to dismiss those issues, too?
For all of its exotic and illustrious worldbuilding, the characters and their goals, particularly the villains, perceived and non-perceived, tend to fall flat on their faces and remain to be seen or resolved, never addressed again. Oh and Sheetal’s happy with her new boyfriend and her healed Dad, so that’s good– never mind that stars may want to either SPOILERS with the human race or SPOILERS humans. It’s like the book can’t quite make up its mind.
My rating: For all the intense worldbuilding, I’m giving this outwardly beautiful book a solid 2.5 stars, or an”ok-ish rating,” but it really, really needs more work… and maybe a sequel, to delve into and address some of these concerns.