Farewell, happy fields,
Where joy forever dwells! Hail, horrors! Hail,
Infernal world! And thou, profoundest hell,
Receive thy new possessor.
paradise lost, john milton
Which quote is, perhaps, more appropriate (or inappropriate? how does one define these things?) for Dragonwitch, but as Dragonwitch has not come out yet, who but the author is to say? We carry on; the men of the East may spell the stars, and times and triumphs mark, but the men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.
I notice that, at the end of book reviews on blogs, people tend to say something like, "I was sent a free copy of this book via its publishing house for in order to review, my thoughts are mine and no soul's else - take it or leave it, so there!" And so, take it or leave it, I was sent a copy of Starflower, fourth book of the Tales of Goldstone Wood series, to review under no sense of obligation but mine own: it's a free book from a beautiful series by a fantastic author so the sense of obligation on my side was about as high and as self-centred as that of the cat-poet in this book. I say free: it's more of a bartering system: they give me a free book, I give them a free review.
The review. I wrote what I lie to myself by calling more professional reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, but here on The Penslayer things are less formal so here I simply want to talk about what I thought and why I liked this book. Where to begin...? By telling people that there may be spoilers, I suppose. There may be spoilers.
I love that, though Starflower happens some sixteen hundred years before Heartless (the technical beginning of Tales of Goldstone Wood) the reader is not jarred by a sense of disconnect. I suppose the Faerie realm helps that: where is the disconnect when the people who populate the background of Heartless and Veiled Rose are immortal and have lived through that span of time? I love also that, though Starflower is history compared to the previous three books, there is history beating under the bones of Starflower too - who are the Brothers Ashiun, and what terrible thing did they do that carved their names so deeply into Faerie lore? I love history. I love it when novels have history. I admire the delicate way Stengl weaves well-known fairytale principles into the story (okay, the frogs were a little less delicate, but what can you do?) such as the girl and the wolf and a very faint reminiscence (which could possibly be only my imagination) of Snow White. I love Starflower's own history which explains why she is so different from all the other women of her people: not a forced history, not a sudden alakazam, deus ex machina, she's a strong-spirited girl unlike everyone else. Her own life, so different from those of other women, reasonably shaped her into herself. If I were wearing my cap I would take it off to Stengl over that point.
And then there is the Hound. As I have attempted to do with Beowulf and Adamantine, Stengl as done with Starflower and the famous, beautiful, heart-wrenching poem by Francis Thompson: The Hound of Heaven. I did not realize until I was nearly done with the book that Stengl had placed the first stanza of the poem in the back of the book for the reader's enjoyment and education. I had already been introduced to the poem and had read it in full online, so the unabashed, unapologetic arrival of the Hound upon the scene took me less by surprise and more by a sense of terrific wonder. If you have not read the poem, Stengl and I both urge you - implore you - to go do so. Look, I've even left a handy-dandy link so you don't have to go through any trouble: The Hound of Heaven. It's longish, but gorgeous, and tears down the stuff of dreams and thin sky-castles and the weakness of human flesh and the angry self-sufficiency of the human soul and leaves nothing but him. And when there is, at the core of all things, himself, all things array themselves aright and the world - even the wretchedness of it - aligns to perfection. Read it. Read them both. I dare you.
that is why I love starflower