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The Starlight Raven Paperback – September 13, 2015
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"... a pleasant, often charming tale, with plenty of room for sequels." --Carolyn Cushman, Locus
About the Author
C. Dale Brittain is both a fantasy writer and a professor of medieval history, having been writing stories since she was five years old, and having an early love of knights and castles cemented by a trip to Europe with her family during high school. She blogs at cdalebrittain.blogspot.com, covering both medieval social history and her fantasy novels. Follow her on Twitter @DaimbertYurt.
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In The Starlight Raven, we run into a few characters we'd met before, but this one is told from Antonia's point of view. At its start, she's just shy of fourteen years old and excited to start classes as the first female student accepted by the City's wizard academy...which is headed up by Master Daimbert.
We do meet up again with Daimbert, with Theodora, and with Joachim, but they're definitely minor characters - and I'm pleased the author went that route; it helps distinguish it from the other series, which had the perfect ending. Another thing I'm pleased by is how well she did giving Antonia her own voice. I was wondering, going in, if Antonia would sound just like her dad did in the Yurt books, but no: she's confident, and sassy, and really, she's nothing at all like her dad. (Or at least, she's nothing at all like her dad was when we first met him.)
This book has a younger protagonist, so the struggles and themes are a bit different than what Daimbert experienced. Instead of having a young adult, newly independent and feeling very inadequate, who has to overcome his problems using his own ingenuity, Starlight Raven features a girl who has no authority of her own at all, and who perhaps thinks she knows more than she does. I could see this being labeled young adult, both because of the main character's age and the shorter length, but I have to say, I didn't find it to be any less enjoyable than the Daimbert books. If you liked those, you'll like this one, and I doubt anyone will find it too "young."
As more reviews come in, Starlight Raven is doubtless going to be compared to Harry Potter. There are several parallels: magic school? Check. Three first year students, two boys and a girl? Check. One of them is haughty and unpleasant? Check. Punishment? Check. Private talks with the headmaster? Check. A sinister teacher? Check. There are other similarities, too, but I'd be venturing into spoiler territory by pointing them out.
Whether you're a Potter fan or not, though, I suggest you try and read this with an open mind. While there are certainly similarities - and at this point, I'm not sure any book featuring a young student at a magic school would get by without a comparison - there are plenty of very refreshing differences.
I guess there's one more similarity: I loved the Harry Potter books, and I have no doubt I'm going to love this series too...if not for quite the same reasons. It's certainly gotten off to a strong start! If you've never been to Brittain's world before, I suggest you start at the beginning with A Bad Spell in Yurt (The Royal Wizard of Yurt Book 1). (Actually, I can't say for certain that the world building laid out in the earlier series is necessary to enjoy this one...but I am pretty certain it improves the experience.) And if you have been there, then...what are you waiting for?
For parents monitoring their child's reading: Fourteen year old Antonia does end up in a sexual situation where an adult magician binds her magically. The adult aggressor says licentious things to the bound teen, intending to have sex with her. His defense later in the chapter is that his intent was to bully her into submission rather than violent rape. Antonia's mentor decides to put the issue and other facts about the magician's history before the authorities. The magician loses his position and is banished from the manor. There is discussion between Antonia and her mentor. The mentor thinks restraint as an attempt to bully a teen into sexual consent is villainous. Antonia believes that since she had not yet been penetrated, the man has not committed an act that is punishment worthy. Because Antonia is first person narrator, the final voice, the mentor is condemned in the story for embarrassing the magician. Antonia atones for her perceived role in the banishment by giving an object of tremendous personal and financial value to the man.
Antonia's contrition is in character. A young girl who is almost raped can realistically attach guilt to herself and thereby might pardon the criminal. But binding a teen to create a situation where she cannot actively protest is way short of consensual adult sex. Not just statutory rape because of her age. Rape in fact because of the coercion.
I am concerned for young readers developing their own sense of sexual mores. A parent who knows their teen is reading this book should clarify. No person who coerces another to influence them to have sex is innocent. Nobody who has been bound by someone should feel guilty when that individual is punished. Being fired from his job is a fairly minor punishment. The situation called for dungeon time.
I hope that as the series progresses, and I expect this evil magician returns, C. Dale Brittain evolves Antonia's feelings of guilt over the punishment of her rapist. He got off to easily. Perhaps a discussion with the Bishop?
At least one other reviewer mentioned that it didn't feel like a young adult novel, so perhaps I should expand on that a bit. The primary reasons I say it does feel that way are because, well, the main character is young (14 at the start), and because she spends a fair amount of time feeling out what course she wants to take in her life, which are reasonably common themes in young adult books. Most adults should be fine with the story, so long as they're willing to remember what 14 was like.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a sequel series. It was pleasantly surprised when the main characters showed up, but only as minor characters, and only at appropriate times. I've seen too many sequel series where either the first characters vanish, or the author spends too much time making morning calls on all the prior characters (sometimes even the minor ones), making sure you're kept up-to-date on what they've been doing. In this book, that doesn't happen.
Something that some people will consider a downside is that this book is obviously the first in a series. Quite a few loose ends don't get tied up. Whether you consider that good or bad, I'll leave up to you. I like the thought that we'll see Antonia again, and don't mind books that obviously are going to be continued.