October 01, 2013

Descendant: A Starling Novel

by Lesley Livingston
HarperCollins Canada
320 pp.
Ages 12+
August, 2013

A year ago, fantasy YA author Lesley Livingston introduced her readers to the first of her new series, Starling, which focuses on the Fennrys Wolf (who first appeared in her award-winning Wondrous Strange series) and Mason Starling, a teen whose family is dedicated to the service of the Norse gods. When Book 1 in the series, Starling, ended, Fenn was attempting to keep Mason from crossing the Hell Gate Bridge (which is Bifrost, the link between the mortal world and Asgard, the realm of the Norse gods).  But through the machinations of her nasty brother, Rory, Mason cannot get off the train crossing the bridge and Fenn is shot by Rory before the bridge explodes.

Entering a barren wasteland, Mason is met by her mother, the hooded figure of Hel, who presides over those who died disgracefully.  Though cautioned by Loki, a trickster god, about Hel's claims, Mason follows her mother's directions to get the Sword of Odin in order to escape from Asgard. Meanwhile, Fenn enlists the help of an Egyptian god, Rafe, and a former Janus Guard colleague, Maddox, to reach Mason before she unwittingly becomes a Valkyrie and sets off Ragnarok.

Concurrently, Mason's Gosforth Academy classmates, whose families are all intricately involved in the service of the gods of Greek, Roman, Norse and Egyptian mythology, find themselves embroiled in power struggles that might result in the end of the world.  Cal Aristarchos, who has always been in love with Mason, is rescued after falling from the Hell Gate Bridge, though his mother believes he has died.  Reunited with his father and learning of his own demi-god status, Cal rushes to help Mason prevent his mother, Daria Aristarchos, from lashing out against the Starlings and performing a blood ritual on Mason's older brother Rothgar.  But, with different factions working against each other and without full knowledge of the nature of their heritage, Mason and others lack the clarity to battle evil forces effectively.  After all, who are the bad guys?

Except for the honest love between Fennrys and Mason, everything and everyone are not as they always appear.  Friends, brothers, love interests, fathers, mothers, even swords–they may harbour secrets, fears, magic, and illusions.  Even the dead may appear to have life.  And with the intertwining of ancient mythologies and deities, anything can and does happen.

The nature of Mason's heritage, as well as that of Cal and Fennrys, drives Descendant, with prophecies waiting to be fulfilled or compelled to pass.  Keeping in mind that the ancient mythologies were the basis for religious beliefs, with little opportunity for acceptance of other belief systems, the hierarchy of deities and duties may show few commonalities.  Without common ground, there must be the battles for one to usurp the others.  Be prepared to endure the manipulation of the young students of Gosforth Academy by their elders all in the cause of service to their gods.  Sadly, the young teens, such as Mason, have no understanding of the extent to which they will be controlled.

Descendant is an intense conflict between multiple forces of good and evil, played out on different stages, among the living and the dead, with players who might know the script or who can only improvise.  With Descendant (and in fact with all of Lesley Livingston's books to date), the reader will never, never anticipate the climax or the ending.  As with Lesley Livingston's other books, I finished Descendant muttering to myself, "Are you kidding me?"  That translates into "Never saw that coming" and "Oh. My. Gosh." and "No!!! How am I going to wait until Starling Book 3 comes out?"  Lesley Livingston snagged me again in her literary web of exceptional plotting, characters and atmosphere, and even left me appreciating the captivity.

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