Fiction Reviews

The City of Stardust

(2024) Georgia Summers, Hodderscape, £20, hrdbk, 343pp, ISBN 978-1-399-72867-6


Violet Everly is the youngest in her family. With her dad never seen and her mother gone travelling, Violet is brought up by her two uncles, Ambrose (the academic one) and Gabriel (her fly-by-night, Indiana Jones-style one.)

Isolated, she spends her life in books, in the library of the crumbling house owned by her uncles. All seems ideal, absent parents aside. But her uncles have a major secret. The family has a curse upon them, a debt from their past that must be paid to Penelope. Penelope is an astral, a God-like creature who never ages, never grows sick – and never forgives a debt. Violet’s mother, Marianne, should have been given next as a blood sacrifice to the strange woman, but has disappeared looking for a solution to the break the curse. Ambrose and Gabriel have negotiated a temporary reprieve of 10 years, but as the time runs out it is clear that Penelope is getting impatient and that Violet, being last in line, is due to be the next victim.

This is all a bit of a shock to Violet when she finds out. She feels betrayed and lied to by her uncles, and she leaves her uncles to look for clues as to where Marianne has gone, to break the curse and meet her mother.

Of course, this would be difficult enough, but the situation is made more complicated by Violet’s relationship with Penelope’s assistant, a young boy named Aleksander. As is the way with such things, they both fall in love and spend most of the book trying not to admit it to each other. Aleksander is encouraged in his relationship with Violet by Penelope, who sees this as an opportunity to discover, through Violet, where Marianne is, whereas Violet seems to find an interest in a bad-boy with a difficult past.

Tension therefore builds as the book progresses, with the clock counting down towards the end.

The author does well in this debut to create places of comfort – museums, libraries, coffee shops – through which the characters travel, and I think that many readers will identify with such places. There’s a degree of excitement and suspense as the characters travel, not only through our world but also through Penelope’s and Aleksander’s city of Fidelis, a place in an alternate realm filled with scholars, all subservient to people like Penelope. Fidelis sounds idyllic but we eventually discover the horrifying price that has to be paid to be a scholar and the reason why the Everly’s blood is so important to Penelope.

I think that the key point as to whether you will enjoy this book will depend on how much you buy into the romance between the two young main characters. The author’s skill is such that readers may find themselves engaging with the various perils the characters have to deal with, not to mention the traumas of betrayal and abandonment, but to their credit they also find courage and bravery as they cope with sacrifice. By the conclusion, the reader wants our main characters to succeed, which they do, up to a point. The ending, whilst it may please the reader, feels a little convenient as it quickly ties things up. Nevertheless, readers who make it to that point will be satisfied.

Summing up, The City of Stardust is a likeable romantic fantasy that doesn’t score many points for originality but is very entertaining and engaging. The ending leads room for a sequel. I’m sure there will be one.

Mark Yon


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