September 18, 2012

Starling

by Lesley Livingston
HarperTrophy Canada
978-1-44340-764-9
341 pp.
Ages 12+
2012 

Lesley Livingston takes the fantasy reader back to the New York City of her Wondrous Strange series  but veers off in another direction, now focusing on the Fennrys Wolf, the Janus Guard who'd made an extreme sacrifice at the conclusion of Tempestuous.

The Starling of the title is Mason Starling, a student and avid fencer at the venerable Gosforth Academy.  Well-protected (or over-protected?) by her very wealthy father, Gunnar Starling, and eldest brother Rothgar, Mason suffers from debilitating claustrophobia, courtesy of a childhood prank played on her by her other brother, Rory, during a game of hide-and-seek in which she was locked in a shed for days.  Rory is hardly the caring older brother that Roth is to Mason.  And, sadly, Mason does not have the comfort of a mother, her own dying giving birth.

When Mason, Rory, and their fencing teammates at Gosforth Academy are attacked by horrible, mutable creatures during a violent storm that knocks out all power, a beautiful, naked blond man, who identifies himself as the Fennrys Wolf, comes to their aid.  Beyond using his sword to fight off the creatures he calls draugr,  saving the life of Calum Aristarchos, who is in love with Mason, and reassuring the claustrophobic Mason (when the group shelters itself in a cellar), the Fennrys Wolf has little to offer about himself.  He knows a lot about the draugr and such, but he doesn't know how he knows it.

After Fennrys gathers some clothes from the group he's sedated with magick, he goes off in search of some answers.  He is attacked by centaurs, crosses the East River over a bridge called Hell Gate to Dead Ground, and reconnects with Mason whose dark blue eyes continue to haunt and mesmerize him.  Mason is similarly drawn to Fennrys.  Together they piece together bits of Fennrys' memories, including finding his warehouse apartment and a cache of weapons, and practise fencing, with Mason using a sword which Fennrys gifts to her.  Of course, there seem to be a lot of strange entities coming after them - draugr, fireballs, nixxies - but Fennrys is determined to keep Mason safe.

Meanwhile, through Rory who has secretly availed himself of his father's old diary, the reader learns that the Starlings had dedicated their lives to the service of the Norse gods, by vowing to help bring about Ragnarok, the catastrophic end of the world, and thus the return of the gods to the mortal realm.  There are other clans, however, in service to the gods of Greek and Celtic worlds, for example, who are just as happy to leave the mortal world as is.  But, the appearance of the Fennrys Wolf, who has walked between the mortal world and the Dead, is seen by some as a harbinger of the end or the means by which Ragnarok may begin.  Sadly, unbeknownst to all, Rory who has learned to do magick is determined to follow the Starlings'  destiny.

So, while Fennrys and Mason fall in love, he learns more of his tragic story and the plots to manipulate him, and she questions her choices and tries to resolve discrepancies between what she feels and what she is told.  Ultimately, both Mason and Fennrys become pawns in a larger-than-life plot that could lead to the end of the world.

That synopsis doesn't even come close to the depth and layering of plots and characterizations in Starling.  There's a sharp learning curve about mythological concepts from various civilizations that Lesley Livingston obviously is well versed in.  When they all come together, both in conflict and in harmony, the result is a multi-layered story in which it's almost impossible to know in whom to trust.  That would explain Mason's own confusion: a father who seems to love her; contemptuous and contemptible Rory but her brother just the same; Roth who the readers learn has a few secrets of his own, including an alliance with the servants of the Greek gods; Calum who wants to share with her his fears of the mer-people but blames her for his injuries; and Fennrys, to whom she is drawn and who seems to adore her but whose arrival has resulted in such mayhem.

I'm delighted that Lesley Livingston has chosen to re-introduce the Fennrys Wolf by way of his own series, especially after his heart-breaking ending in Tempestuous.  And her innovative and rich melding of the Faery world with the realms of classic mythology is inspired.  After all, many belief systems, including today's religions, have similar or identical premises upon which they are founded.  With the addition of Mason and Fennrys' romance, sibling rivalries, peer relationships, and a classic good-versus-evil theme, Starling is that first burst of explosion at the onset of Ragnarok - it's startling, it's overwhelming, and it's just the beginning.

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The book trailer of Starling from HarperTeen is available for viewing on CanLit for LittleCanadians Book Trailers page.

An additional video of Lesley Livingston recording the audio version of Starling at the CBC studios in Toronto demonstrates why listening to Lesley Livingston read her story is as much of a treat as reading it.

Lesley Livingston Recording Starling at CBC
Published on Aug 20, 2012 by on YouTube.

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