Maureen Johnson has been on my radar for a couple of years now, ever since I read this manifesto post that she wrote about NOT BEING A BRAND. I read it and thought, yeah, this chick is awesome. I should read her books.
Cut to: three years later. Better late than never, yes? Unfortunately, I don’t think this is the book I should have started with. I was decidedly underwhelmed by it.
The Name of the Star is the first book of I-don’t-know-how-many in Johnson’s Shades of London series. It follows American teenager Rory Deveaux as she enters boarding school in London just as a series of murders echoing the ones committed by infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper back in 1888 begin rocking the streets of London. Rory somehow becomes the only witness to the string of murders, and begins manifesting paranormal abilities that sound cool in theory, but in actuality it mostly just comes off as predictable. I guessed most of the plot twists pages and pages before they were revealed, and most of them were revealed in a rather clunky manner.
Actually, the whole book came off as sort of clunky. It took about ninety pages before the main plot set in, and those ninety pages were mostly dedicated to setting up a boarding school novel that never really seemed to materialize. Then the narrative kind of flips a switch and suddenly it’s a murder mystery thriller, except again, none of it was particularly thrilling because I wasn’t surprised by anything that happened. Johnson also manages to sort of put in a romance plot as well, but it’s mostly an after-thought. It was like there was three different novels smooshed into one: the boarding school, the mystery-paranormal-thriller, and a romance. It’s not that these stories couldn’t be put together and work as a novel, but it didn’t really work for me here because of the way it was executed.
But for all those complaints, it was a really easy read, and the ideas were intriguing, even if the execution was off. She also does characters really well, and there were a few moments in the novel where I wished she would leave off the paranormal murder mystery and just focus on her characters, like the plot was getting in the way of her ability to just write about people I’d want to read.
I will probably be reading future books in this series because I’m a completionist, and I’ll also be curious if now that she’s gotten her clunky set-up out of the way if she can make this concept into a workable series. Will also definitely be picking up her non-paranormal stuff because I’ve heard it’s great.