The Star Shard: A winning children’s fantasy

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThe Star Shard by Frederick S. DurbinThe Star Shard by Frederic S. Durbin

The Star Shard, by Frederic S. Durbin, is a winning children’s fantasy with an intriguing setting, albeit a bit implausible. The main character, Cymbril, is a young orphan girl-slave who lives on the Thunder Rake, a mind-bogglingly massive wagon that claws its way on seven-story wheels through the countryside to trade with the world’s cities, towns, and villages. It is basically a market town on wheels that goes where the customers are. Cymbril’s job is to sing to attract and keep the crowds that will fill the market’s coffers, much to the delight of her owner, Rombol. The book’s precipitating event is when Rombol purchases another slave, this one a young Fey boy named Loric. Cymbril finds herself unaccountably intrigued by Loric and the two, to no surprise, eventually plot an escape attempt. Along the way, Cymbril learns more not only about Loric, the Fey, and magic, but also about her own self and her past, as well as the history of the city she’s called home (though it was not her first home).

The plot is a bit predictable, though there are a few nice surprises to spice things up a bit. The characters a bit stock, though Cymbril especially is fully developed and sharply drawn. Loric is less complete and many of the side characters seldom rise above their roles as plot points, though a few do here and there. The setting, despite some built-in logic issues, is vivid and intriguing and though we spend most time on the Rake (which is fine given its creativity), we do see a bit of the outer world as well, enough to whet our interest for more. We also get some hints as to other characters that tease us with tantalizing glimpses and imply we’ll see them at some point in a later book perhaps.

I found The Star Shard a charming and quick read, the setting relatively unique (with hints of Phillip Reeve’s MORTAL CITIES to it), and the story suspenseful enough to carry me along happily. My ten-year-old son, whom I started it aloud with, liked it so much that after a few read-aloud sessions, he snuck down one night, stole it off the table without my noticing, and finished it that night (and he had a ways to go). Not only that, but he didn’t tell me for a few days of continued read-alouds, which meant he liked it enough to read it twice. That’s probably a better gauge of a book for young readers. It is for young readers though, I’d say, as older teens would probably find it a bit pale for the most part. Recommended on my part for younger teens and readers and clearly highly recommended by my ten-year-old.

This beautifully written fantasy tackles the issues of slavery and freedom. Twelve-year-old Cymbril is a slave on Thunder Rake, a gigantic wagon city that rolls from town to town carrying goods to be sold by its resident merchants. The Rake’s master purchases a new slave, a mysterious boy named Loric who is one of the magical Fey. Because he can see in the dark, Loric’s duty is to guide the Rake through the treacherous wilderness at night.Cymbril and Loric secretly join forces to plan their escape—soon the two friends thread their way through a series of increasing dangers, encountering an enchanted market and deadly monsters as their one chance for freedom draws nearer.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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