Monday, August 13, 2012

Starcrossed (Josephine Angelini)

Starcrossed, like Divergent before it, was a book that let me down. I first heard about the book in 2010, and the premise sounded exciting: Helen Hamilton finds out that she is a actually a demigod when the beautiful Delos family moves to her island. She and the new clan at first violently hate each other, but after Helen saves Lucas Delos' life, she falls madly in love with him and finds out that she is fated to play out the role of Helen of Troy who might cause another Trojan War. This concept promises a lot of awesome things: Greek mythology, a complex romance and a motif about fate, choice and destiny (which is one of my favorite devices if done correctly--see One Hundred Years of Solitude for the most perfect example).

The book barely delivered any of these things. What we do get is a book that comes across as a mash-up of a lot of different popular teen books that could have been spectacular had Angelini been more focused. The story drags and sags in places and the characters aren't particularly fun to listen to. Take Helen, for example.

Helen is our protagonist, and at the beginning of the book, her favorite thing to focus on is popularity. She's an incredibly beautiful girl who lives on Nantucket. Despite her beauty, she is not a member of the popular crowd and she spends a lot of time thinking about it. I thought we were moving toward a "strong female heroine" image, so why does Helen care? This was an instance where I feel the book could have been trimmed down and refocused, because the popularity thing never becomes important. Angelini sets it up as though it may become relevant later, but it never does.

The Delos family is often frustrating, too. They have known their whole lives about being demigods and about The Four Houses and the feud that causes them to want to kill Helen. Helen, however, grew up completely ignorant of all of the history and backstory to her family, and instead of sitting her down to explain everything in detail, they force Helen to tease it out piece by piece. There are ~150 pages of this nonsense in the middle of the book that could have been skipped had everything been explained at once. It felt like the author was just trying to pad the book so it was longer.

And, as I mentioned, there were a lot of things that were evocative of other popular teen books. The "we can't be together"/"we can't be apart" romance between Helen and Lucas reminded me of the Bella/Edward relationship dynamic: Lucas refuses to sleep with Helen even though she begs him to, he watches her sleep to protect her because she's being hunted by somebody. Helen is depressed when Lucas isn't around, etc. I wanted this to be a nice romance but all I could thing about was the trainwreck that was Twilight.

I also got a lot of Percy Jackson, too. I suppose that would be hard to avoid, and I know that the author originally pitched the novel as "Percy Jackson for girls". The whole "four houses of the demigods" sent me in a time-warp to Camp Half-Blood. I wish Starcrossed hadn't gone in the "magical powers" direction because it reminded me of Twilight once again--as the vampires had special powers, so too do these demigods. There's always that difficult "how do I handle discovering I'm special and magical" moment to overcome, and Angelini didn't do a great job having her protagonist adjust.

I must give credit where it is due, because Starcrossed (again, like Divergent) was very, very readable but filled with unnecessary fluff in the middle and interesting mostly toward the end. There was a lot of promise and potential, but overall the effort was bloated and unfocused. This book is the first in a trilogy, so I'll be willing to give it a try just to see where it goes/if it improves.

My rating: 3/5
Starcrossed on Goodreads
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