First of all: MERRY CHRISTMAS (and/or Happy Holidays, if you don’t celebrate!). Whether you’re taking a break from crowding around the Christmas tree or doing something else entirely, I hope you’re cozy and warm and maybe enjoying a steaming mug of tea (or hot beverage of your choice) :)
Now on to the review:
The Name of the Star – Maureen Johnson
Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London to start a new life at boarding school just as a series of brutal murders mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper killing spree of more than a century ago has broken out across the city. The police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man believed to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him – the only one who can see him. And now Rory has become his next target…unless she can tap her previously unknown abilities to turn the tables.
I’ve heard a lot about Maureen Johnson but have never actually read any of her books. My sister actually read this one (and the sequel, The Madness Underneath), and told me I would probably enjoy them. So while we were in London, I decided to read a London-based book (all the better to imagine the setting!).
The first thing I noticed was how long it took to start. I realize that, as the first book in a trilogy, it was setting up the broader story, and I completely respect that. However, as someone who’s been criticized for taking too long to get the story started, I’ve come to expect books – especially YA books – to start a little faster.
Once stuff actually began to happen, the momentum picked up and hurtled along nicely. Of course, if you a) read the back of the book and b) have read any book ever in the history of the world, you should be able to guess who the Ripper is, even if you don’t know his motivation. Part of what dragged the beginning of the book down was waiting for Rory to clue into the same thing as you: that she can see ghosts and that that one particular dude is maybe a bit suspicious.
Otherwise, I have to give Maureen Johnson props for spinning an interesting story. There’s a healthy dose of diversity (Boo and Callum), boarding school politics, lots of details about daily life in London (which is one of my favourite cities), plus, of course, ghosts (personally, I’m hoping for more Alistair in the next books). It’s obvious that she put a lot of effort and research into making the story as true-to-life as a ghost story about a Ripper copycat can be, and that’s impressive.
My only other issue was the narrative voice. It sometimes felt stilted or lacking in enthusiasm. I can’t help but compare it to the other ghosts-in-London series I’ve read (and adored), Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co, where the writing is energetic and bursts off the page (and also has a much better ship that this one…I mean, I liked Jerome at the beginning, but he turns into quite the dullard as the story progresses). Unless it’s Johnson’s intention, at times it feels like even Rory has no belief or passion in what she’s talking about, and it’s hard to connect with a character who’s so disinterested in her own story.
I was waffling between 3 and 3.5 interrobangs on this one; given that it’s the beginning of a promising series with a great concept, I’ll round it up and give it a 3.5 (it is Christmas, after all!).