Book Review 2010 #9: Starfinder

Next up, a new book I received from an author I read years ago…

Sometimes I read too broadly for my own good.
Years ago, I discovered a fantasy debut novel by the author John Marco, a novel by the name of the Jackal of Nar. Nice and gritty military fantasy that I liked enough to email the author about.
My interests and reading drifted, and I didn’t follow up with his later works, and in point of fact John Marco slipped from my mind until I rediscovered his work. An email contest for a copy of his latest novel led me to obtaining a copy and reading where the author I had enjoyed a decade ago had gone in his writing.
Starfinder is very different than the military fantasy novels of his past.
Starfinder, aimed at a YA audience (although perfectly enjoyable by adults) is the story of Moth and Fiona. He’s an orphan, the ward of an old knight, and dreams of flying in the skies even as he hears Leroux’s stories of the Skylords, Faerie beyond a misty reach that laps against their mountain city home. She’s the granddaughter of Rendor, military mind and creator of newfangled steampunk-ish flying machines called Dragonflies, as as well as a brand new, armed to the teeth airship, the Avatar.
When Leroux dies, willing and bidding Moth to enter the Reach and aid his avian companion, Lady Esme, to return to her true form in the process, Moth and Fiona find themselves on the run into the mists of Faerie, the Reach. As they flee, they are chased by Rendor, in his massive flying ship, and the Skylords themselves, seeking the unique magical gift that Moth now has in his possession, and only he can wield.
The Starfinder.
Part steampunk, Part YA, part borderland-of-Faerie novel, Starfinder is the sort of novel that adults will wish they had available to read when they were 12. Instead of the more conventional fantasy novel a la Harry Potter, the world of the Skylords is an amalgam of several fantasy and science fiction subgenres that provides a stew rich enough for adults such as myself to enjoy as well as children. Combine steampunk technology with a coming of age story, and a faerieland with dragons, centaurs, mermaids and more, and mix well. Very well, as it turns out.
Certainly, the plot and characters are somewhat simplified for a YA sensibility, to be sure. One shouldn’t expect Joycean style characterization or Gene Wolfe-esque complications in a turgid plot in a novel aimed at teenagers, to be sure. With that aside, however, Marco has done a remarkable high-wire act in balancing these various concerns, and still producing a book that is enjoyable for older readers as well. There are strains and motifs of deeper and more complex themes layered in here in a way that hearkens back to his first novel.
It’s clearly the first of a series as given it is subtitled “a skylords novel”. I am looking forward to the subsequent volumes.