Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

UK Cover - HarperCollins
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
Shades of London #1
Published September 2011

“The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it’s the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper events of more than a century ago.
Soon “Rippermania” takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was walking with her at the time, didn’t notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humour, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.” Synopsis from

US Cover - Putnam Juvenile
The setting – anyone who knows me knows that I love London and anything connected to its history so this was right up my alley. The locations are described so well that it is easy to picture London, the East End with its very own charm, and Wexford as a seemingly typical boarding school one can expect to find in England.
The characters, especially the main character Aurora (sorry, Rory), are easy to like. From the description one might expect a stereotype Southern States American teenager, but actually Rory is eager to embrace the differences she encounters in her new surroundings. For example the poor girl, instead of getting to choose her sport activity, gets thrown into a hockey team with no previous knowledge whatsoever as part of the experience. The voice she is given to narrate the story is very engaging and humorous, so hockey lessons aren't the only moments where you can expect a good laugh. I loved the description of typical British habits and how non-natives perceive them. This is equally amusing if one is part of the group with these quirks.
I take issue with protagonists who are too uncertain of themselves or act downright against every human instinct of survival unless there is a very good reason for it. At times, Rory seems to fall victim to that second category, but if you look at the situation more closely, her motivations justify her actions to a certain degree and it fits with her overall character.
You should know that The Name of the Star has no love story as its main focus. I’m fine with that and I think the story is plot-driven enough to work well with only a little of this element. Nevertheless, Rory relates to several people of her surroundings: Jazza, her roommate, is possibly as British as they come and the sort of friend who is not afraid to tell you when you need to get yourself together but will have your back no matter what. Jerome is a little bit of a mystery to me. It’s clear soon enough that he is interested in Rory but not really ambitious to do something about it. At the moment he seems a bit like a prop. I won’t go into detail about the ghost police since you are supposed to discover them yourselves. Let me just say that for a job like theirs they seem exactly whack enough to me. In a good way of course.
Now, I do realise that I didn’t really say anything about the “Jack the Ripper” part of the story, mostly because it is not only part of it but the cause behind everything. I liked how the recreation and embedding of the historical events took place in this present day scenario. The short episodes that leave Rory’s point of view were, in my opinion, exactly right to offer more information and develop the readers’ understanding of the story beyond Rory’s knowledge. The Ripper background facts seemed well-researched to me and just detailed enough to thrill but not make me want to revisit my latest meal.  I enjoyed the steady, almost imperceptible, build-up instead of being thrown from one step to another. Hats off to the unexpected hero as well, what an elegant solution.

This book surprised me, made me laugh, and my mind race at the possibilities. One major brownie point for the ending: There is no big cliff-hanger in the sense that the story arc of the Ripper mystery seems unresolved. However, there is just the right incentive to look forward to the next book, which will be The Madness Underneath hopefully published in October this year. So well done to start off a new series and I can’t wait to read the next book. The only bright spot is that I won't have to miss Maureen Johnson’s great humour and the quirkiness she brings to her writing since she frequently graces the world with her online presence. If you follow only one person on Twitter, make sure it's her or you're missing something. And read this treasure trove of a book.

Sometimes you have to see the bathroom to know the hard reality of things – UK paperback, pg. 19.


Anonymous said...

Great review! The Name of the Star has really interested me for quite awhile. I'm really excited to read it, thanks for such an informative review! <3

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