A review of “Strange Star” by Emma Carroll.

strange star

Cover art Julian De Narvaez

Faber £6.99 Paperback

Emma’s website

Faber and Faber’s synopsis:

They were coming tonight to tell ghost stories. ‘A tale to freeze the blood,’ was the only rule.

Switzerland, 1816. On a stormy summer night, Lord Byron and his guests are gathered round the fire. Felix, their serving boy, can’t wait to hear their creepy tales. Yet real life is about to take a chilling turn- more chilling than any tale. Frantic pounding at the front door reveals a stranger, a girl covered in the most unusual scars. She claims to be looking for her sister, supposedly snatched from England by a woman called Mary Shelley. Someone else has followed her here too, she says. And the girl is terrified.

So what did I think?

A gripping and chilling gothic horror story for middle grade readers.

Emma Carroll’s latest book is framed by a gathering of free thinkers, including Mary Shelley. The first  page is an invitation to a house party at the request of Lord Byron; and the challenge for the evening is to “tell a ghost story that will terrify the assembled company“. This immediately sets the spooky tone. A storm hints at the foreboding to come, and when the guests are all assembled, an unexpected knock at the door interrupts the story telling. An uninvited visitor explains how she came to be there, which becomes the main part of the story. The third and final part of the story brings all the elements together, and shines a light on the life of Mary  Shelley.

As with her previous books, Emma Carroll’s craft in story telling is deeply enviable: it all just flows so well! Strange Star pays homage to the genre of gothic horror in the setting and atmosphere. The characters are all convincing, and I was particularly charmed by the relationship between the 3 sisters: Peg, Lizzie and Mercy. It’s chock-full of tragedy, and sadness: strange beasts in the night, lightning strikes and village tittle-tattle.When I was reading chapters 14 and 15 I found that I’d actually been chewing my knuckle at the suspense, and hadn’t even noticed!

For me the most fascinating aspect of this novel is the exploration of the power that humans want to exert over death, yet struggle to achieve. As in Frankenstein, the scientists trying to grasp the fundamentals of life become more monstrous than the creatures they have created.This book is a great introduction for kids to questions of ethics, and boundaries in scientific investigations.

In many ways Strange Star is comparable to The Lie Tree, and for that I am extremely grateful to Emma, as I’ve struggled to find anything to read since that was anywhere near as satisfying. But now I’ve found it! As in The Lie Tree the characters encounter a conflict between their respectable society’s view of God’s creation, and scientific free thinking. There is also an element of a woman’s role in the sciences being frowned upon, and both books are set in a similar time period. But of course the stories and characters are completely different; yet equally compelling and beautifully crafted. I’m just thrilled to have found a book that has restored my reading mojo!

This is such a great book that I’d urge everyone to grab a copy. But I think it would especially suit readers who enjoyed Berlie Doherty’s Street Child, or Sandra Greave‘s The Skull in the Woods.

I know a lot of Year 7s study gothic horror, and I think this would be a very accessible, high-interest book for them to use as an example.

I hope you enjoy Strange Star too!

Happy Reading,

Pippa

11th July 2016

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