Book Review: ‘The Name of the Star’ (Shades of London #1) by Maureen Johnson

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

The Name of the Star (Image Credit: Maureen Johnson)

To preface, it is important to note that I have a tendency to avoid YA paranormal like the plague. This is mostly due to the fact that, in my experience, most of these books tend to be very melodramatic with unbelievable doomed romances. I’m not interested in reading about a human girl in love with an immortal, a ghost, a zombie, a goblin, or whatever the heck else they’ve come up with, especially if they’re going to get mushy about it. Even if it’s written reasonably well – I just don’t understand the appeal. That said, I’m not totally opposed to paranormal themes, so long as they’re incorporated in a way that doesn’t make me gag. I just haven’t really come across that too often in YA.

I took the time to look into The Name of the Star mainly because I’m a huge Maureen Johnson fan. I’ve read all of her previous novels and, with the exception of her paranormal-themed Devlish, enjoyed them all. I figured if anyone could please me with paranormal, it would be her..

Now, getting to the actual book. It’s about a girl named Rory Deveaux, who moves from Louisiana to London to attend boarding school when her parents take jobs in England. Her move just so happens to coincide with the emergence of a Jack the Ripper copycat killer. Her new school is right in the heart of Ripper territory, and Rory quickly finds herself sucked in to the mystery of the new Jack the Ripper whether she wants to be or not. While much of the book is essentially a mystery, a paranormal element comes to light about halfway through. Much to my delight, it is handled realistically and really adds to the creepiness of the story overall.

It does take some time to get this story rolling. Johnson takes her time developing Rory as a character, her relationships with the other kids at boarding school, and the London setting before jumping into the real action. Rory’s perspective is interspersed with short third person chapters that keep us appraised of what the Ripper copycat is up to, so even when it’s not directly affecting Rory the reader still gets that side of the story to some extent. I tend to favor quick pacing in my books, and I was not bothered at all by how much time was spent setting things up in this book. Because the setup involved a great deal of character exploration and plot, it felt very relevant, probably even necessary, for setting the creepy tone and making the whole thing both believable and scary.

I’m a fan of a little YA romance as long as it’s treated realistically and eschews melodrama and instalove. There’s a small romantic element throughout the book, but it’s never the main focus. I think that was a good thing, in that it allowed Rory to become invested in the Ripper mystery without having to worry about some sort of romantic tragedy or unnecessary extra relationship drama. I also foresee that since this will be a series, the romantic element will probably continue to be explored throughout all the books, so it was not so important to dwell on it right away.

On the same note, The Name of the Star features a handful of fantastic supporting characters. Most of them are left fairly open-ended – for example, the overachieving school prefect, Charlotte – she doesn’t play a particularly important role in the plot, but she still comes up fairly often in the narrative. I get the impression she, and many of the other more minor characters, will be back to contribute more to upcoming books in the series. Even though a lot of the side characters were not hugely relevant to the main storyline, I was happy to see that they were all given distinct voices and characteristics. I especially enjoyed Rory’s roommate, Jazza. She was incredibly kind and tried very hard to be the best person she could be, but there were weaknesses bubbling below the surface, waiting to come out.

Overall I am happy to report that I really enjoyed this book despite its general lack of human romance and the presence of paranormal elements. There were moments where I was genuinely freaking out a little for Rory, and it was also rather interesting to read some of the Jack the Ripper factoids that came up as the media covered the copycat murders. The media actually play a pretty big role in this book and there’s some not-so-subtle commentary on that end of things.

One thing I really liked about Johnson’s 13 Little Blue Envelopes was her ability to incorporate London (and various other European cities) as characters in the novel. For most of this book, Rory is confined to her school grounds, and we don’t actually get to see much of London. I would have liked to seen a bit more of it, and hopefully that will happen as the series progresses.

Given that this book was able to win me over despite the paranormal stuff, and that it features a generally non-frustrating, likable teenage lead – that’s a success in my book. I look forward to continuing the series with The Madness Underneath, which is now available.

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Mallory Walker
I spend too much time reading and watching TV. Puppies, Diet Coke and the ’90s make me happy. I mean really, who doesn’t love the days of Marky Mark?
Check out more from Mallory Walker on TDQ…

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