fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Madeline Howard The Rune of Unmaking The Hidden StarsThe Hidden Stars by Madeline Howard

A small band of wizards and warriors must find the lost royal child prophesied to end the reign of an ‘evil’, self-proclaimed goddess-empress. Adapting that main plotline from Willow, Madeline Howard’s novel The Hidden Stars further combines several Tolkien-esque elements (wondrously dexterous elves/fey; vastly powerful wizards; not nine but twelve misshapen servants of the villain) to create an initially promising but unfortunately disappointing fantasy experience.

Many fantasy plots have been explored time and again. What matters is the execution, and that’s where this story falls short. It opens with the birth of the promised child and her disappearance (or death) in a cataclysmic battle between a wizard and the empress’s servants. It then moves twenty years forward, to a time when the promised one has reportedly been sighted in a distant land. The good forces dispatch a small company to find her, racing, of course, against the evil forces.

A core problem is that, in the opening section, it’s never shown how the empress became so powerful or why she’s evil. We’re simply to assume she is both. Echoes of this problem continue throughout (perhaps because of the strange viewpoint shifts — a main character is not well established). In the way of characterization, telling is often preferred to showing, perhaps because there’s little of depth to show. In comparison with the characters from Martin’s A Game of Thrones or any of Guy Gavriel Kay’s novels, these are quite bland and stereotypical. (The wizards are calm and wise; the young heroine determined yet self-questioning; the half-elven prince amazingly agile and quick-witted.) The book’s cover is perhaps ironically telling: no characters shown, just a generic sea-serpent attack. Inexplicably, too, there is no map of the fantasy world, which is almost necessary, given the importance of travel. However, one can be found at the author’s website.

The above disappointments are only magnified by Madeline Howard’s writing ability. She can truly write well, often with wonderful clarity and beauty. However, she is perhaps a bit too enchanted with the high-fantasy storyteller’s voice and employs far too many adjectives, adverbs, and redundant descriptions. (She also changes tense in descriptions of places and is prone to telling instead of showing character behavior and feeling.) Stars is the first of a projected trilogy. My personal plan is to avoid the rest of this story and then see what Madeline Howard writes next as her talent, one hopes, continues to develop. Her potential is that strong.

Recommended as a library loan for fans of high-fantasy. Two-and-a-half disappointed stars.

The Rune of Unmaking — (2004-2007) Publisher: Extraordinary new talent Madeline Howard begins an epic trilogy of magic and power, hidden birthrights and prophecies, with The Hidden Stars, the first book of The Rune of Unmaking.  In a world devastated by a cataclysmic war between the wizards and mages, the Empress Ouriána has seized the throne, proclaiming herself the Divine Incarnation of the Devouring Moon. Appointing twelve priests to perform her rites, she rules with a tight rein of evil sorcery. The priests, once men, have become twisted with magic, making them monstrous — mutated. They bring destruction wherever they ride, and one kingdom after another falls, enslaved into darkness. Yet signs and portents appear, puzzling the seers, and a tale begins to grow. A rumor of a young girl, talented and hidden, who is destined to end Ouriána’s tyrannous reign… if she can survive long enough to do so. And so a brave band of wizards and heroes ride out in search of the hidden princess, pursued by the fury of the dark goddess herself.

Madeline Howard The Rune of Unmaking 1. The Hidden Stars 2. A Dark Sacrifice fantasy book reviewsMadeline Howard The Rune of Unmaking 1. The Hidden Stars 2. A Dark Sacrifice fantasy book reviews


  • Rob Rhodes

    ROB RHODES was graduated from The University of the South and The Tulane University School of Law and currently works as a government attorney. He has published several short stories and is a co-author of the essay “Sword and Sorcery Fiction,” published in Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading. In 2008, Rob was named a Finalist in The L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. Rob retired from FanLit in September 2010 after more than 3 years at FanLit. He still reviews books and conducts interviews for us occasionally. You can read his latest news at Rob's blog.