Book Review : The City of Stardust

I received this book for free from Redhook in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review : The City of StardustThe City of Stardust by Georgia Summers
Published by Redhook on January 30, 2024
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Source: Redhook

A young woman descends into a seductive magical underworld of power-hungry scholars, fickle gods and monsters bent on revenge to break her family's curse in this spellbinding contemporary fantasy debut.
For centuries, generations of Everlys have seen their brightest and best disappear, taken as punishment for a crime no one remembers, for a purpose no one understands. Their tormentor, a woman named Penelope, never ages, never grows sick – and never forgives a debt.
Violet Everly was just a child when her mother Marianne vanished on a stormy night, determined to break the curse. And when Penelope cannot find her, she issues an Violet has ten years to find Marianne, or she will take her place. Violet is the last of the Everly line, the last to suffer from the curse. Unless she can break it first.
To do so, she must descend into a seductive magical underworld of power-hungry scholars, fickle gods and monsters bent on revenge. She must also contend with Penelope’s quiet assistant, Aleksander, who she knows cannot be trusted – and yet whose knowledge of a world beyond her own is too valuable to avoid.
Tied to a very literal deadline, Violet will travel the edges of the world to find Marianne and the key to the city of stardust, where the Everly story began.

The City of Stardust is a magically haunting debut novel, reminiscent of Grimm fairy tales. I have seen that other reviewers considered the novel to be quite slow, but I personally was hooked from the very beginning of the novel and never wanted to put it down. The City of Stardust opens with a mysterious woman smelling of vanilla seemingly snatching children from their unsuspecting parents. Reading how distraught the parents were, I was immediately shook by the possible intentions of such a woman and what she did with the children she referred to as, “little dreamers.” Readers then come to know of the Everly family, who seem not only beholden to this woman, called Penelope, but also to a family curse, which has taken a member of their family for generations.


She believes in curses like she believes in stories. For a curse is just another kind of story, dak and toothy and razor-edged. It’s the unspoken tale singing its way through her family history: once a generation, an Everly walks into the dark, compelled by the shadow beside them.”


Violet Everly, the youngest member of the family, finds herself next in line to fulfill the ancient curse, as her mother, Marianne, skipped town years ago to circumvent being taken herself. To save herself, Violet leaves the comfort of the only home she’s ever known to hunt for her mother and for the secrets of which Marianne holds the key. Along the way, she is both assisted and thwarted by the conflicted assistant of Penelope, the handsome Aleksander, who has goals of his own.


In any other novel, I feel like the back and forth nature of Aleksander and Violet’s relationship would have annoyed me. But in The City of Stardust, the author manages to make their doomed attraction to one another feel both captivating and inescapable. I enjoyed experiencing the two navigating their complex feelings for one another and discovering the implications that their bond has for their survival. However, other readers may definitely find their inability to stay away from one another, even in the face of such catastrophic consequences, irritating. 


“He says, ‘I—I couldn’t. I didn’t—’ He swallows. ‘How could I let you go?’ He says it like a confession, like its something to feel guilty for. She looks at him helplessly. ‘Then what do you want from me, Aleksander?’”


I also couldn’t help but to feel that though their relationship was complex, Violet and Aleksander themselves were more on the one-dimensional side. Aleksander was definitely more fleshed out than Violet, who seemed to become flatter as the novel progressed. Instead of having dreams of her own, Violet’s sole purposes for existing seemed to be solving the mystery of the curse and her mother’s disappearance. While her preoccupation with escaping the curse is understandable, as Violet wants to live, other characters are more archetype than actual complex characters. For example Violet’s uncles, the biggest side characters, do not not exist much outside of their relationship with Violet or seem to have lives of their own. 


I found The City of Stardust to be so mysterious and interesting. The prose of the novel is lovely, but it doesn’t feel over-the-top or flowery. Without being too purple or nonsensical, The City of Stardust creates such a magical atmosphere with its descriptions. And even after reading the entire book, I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of the world-building and its endless possibilities. Though the novel was on the darker side, with themes such as torture, kidnapping, murder, disfigurement/maiming, child abuse, and more, it never felt overbearingly dark, still managing to keep its enchanting feel, with help from Violet’s constant sense of wonderment. 


“It helps to think of it that way. After all, a quest is a kind of adventure, isn’t it? And a quest always ends in the finding: the grail, the sword, the key. The woman who vanished into thin air over a decade ago, leaving a target on her daughter’s back.”


Though I really enjoyed the story and found it to be quite unique, I must say that I think the narrative could have used a bit more fine-tuning. Parts of the novel did not have as big of an emotional payoff as they should have due to the order in which things were revealed. I also think that parts of The City of Stardust didn’t make a whole lot of sense. If the Everly family curse just required an Everly, why did View Spoiler » 


And though I found the world-building and magical systems to be very unique, they were kept very vague. The talent of certain individuals to manipulate a magical material, known as reveurite is the reason for “magic,” but we are never shown exactly how this talent is turned into skill or honed or anything. Likewise, though Aleksander, and Violet to a lesser extent, so desperately want to be scholars, I never quite came to understand exactly what was so great about being one. Finally, I was also not entirely satisfied with the ending of the novel. Though it fits with the mysterious nature of the novel and everything surrounding Violet’s mother, I couldn’t help but to wish for more closure. 


Ultimately, I think The City of Stardust is a bewitching debut novel, showing a ton of promise for the new author. I really enjoyed the unique world-building and the magical atmosphere that pervaded the book, along with its lovely prose. Though I think some things could have been improved upon, such as character development and the execution of the story, I would welcome the ability to return to this world again. I would love to know more details about everything, such as Violet’s mother, the magical system, the astrals, the secret society of scholars, and everything else. I’d recommend this novel for fans of Alix E. Harrow.


Book Review : The City of Stardust - Blogging with Dragons

Posted December 15, 2023 in ARCS, Book Reviews, Fantasy

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