Review: The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White

The Chaos of Stars
Kiersten White

HarperTeen
I received an ARC through Around the World ARC Tour in return for an honest review.
Releases September 10, 2013
288 pages
YA / Fantasy / Mythology

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Isadora’s family is seriously screwed up.

Of course, as the human daughter of Egyptian gods, that pretty much comes with the territory. She’s also stuck with parents who barely notice her, and a house full of relatives who can’t be bothered to remember her name. After all, they are going to be around forever—and she’s a mere mortal.

Isadora’s sick of living a life where she’s only worthy of a passing glance, and when she has the chance to move to San Diego with her brother, she jumps on it. But Isadora’s quickly finding that a “normal” life comes with plenty of its own epic complications—and that there’s no such thing as a clean break when it comes to family. Much as she wants to leave her past behind, she can’t shake the ominous dreams that foretell destruction for her entire family. When it turns out there may be truth in her nightmares, Isadora has to decide whether she can abandon her divine heritage after all.

I had no idea what to expect going into The Chaos of Stars, having never read any of Kiersten White’s other books, but the idea of reading about teenage mortal children of ancient immortal gods in present day sounded intriguing. What I got was a seemingly well-researched exciting adventure with a capable leading heroine in a world that was like our own, only with a few unusual elements (like ancient gods living among us and stuff). I thoroughly enjoyed reading what could have been a formulaic YA girl-meets-boy, girl-has-misunderstanding-with-boy, girl-hates-boy, meanwhile-evil-plots-and-threatens-girl story, but had so many interesting and unique elements that it felt unusual and new.

I say seemingly well-researched because I honestly wouldn’t know. My knowledge of ancient Egypt and its religious customs is slim. What White uses to create her world shows off not only a solid knowledge of the subject matter, but also a genuine love of the subject matter that bounces off the pages and made me want to research these customs that still live in pockets of Egyptian culture. The opening chapters with lead character Isadora stuck in the underground home of her immortal god parents Isis and Osiris feels just as claustrophobic and constraining as her life feels to her. It opens at a meal where Isadora sits at a table with her goddess mother, joyfully pregnant ahead of schedule, and her undead father, covered in mummy wrappings that hide his blackened flesh. Her brother, the Egyptian god king Horus and his wife, the goddess of sex and beer, round out the oddest dinner party I’ve seen in recent novels. It’s comedic in its normalcy and a bit horrifying at its oddness.

By the time Isadora’s adventure transports her to the normalcy of San Diego, where her mortal brother Sirus is preparing for his own child with his lawyer wife, it’s a bit of a relief to be away from the politics of the backstabbing pantheon. Yet this normal world – full of normal real places that made me a bit giddy knowing I’d been in the exact spots Isadora was finding herself in – is filtered through the eyes of an outsider, a girl who has barely left her underground home. Everything normal is unusual and confining, so finding the joy in the normal world is a refreshing change from the often cynical nature of YA lit where the characters spend their times discovering the world of the supernatural.

Isadora soon has a small group of quirky characters surrounding her, including the requisite love interest, who is of course the most gorgeous boy ever created in all of gorgeousdom. He is patient and not put off by Isadora’s bad habit of pushing everyone away and hiding behind fear disguised as strength. There are several red flags along the way, but not the kind I suspect I was meant to have. In a more interesting story, the bit about a pretty persistant boy breaking down the walls of a pretty girl’s emotional baggage was a little been-there-done-that, but the ending when everything starts falling apart made up for the standard love story.

White’s writing is concise, but occasionally a bit repetitive. The theme of stars holding Isadora together and leading her in the right direction was good, but the motif was brought out a little too much when it wasn’t necessary. I liked that the cloudy June weather prevented Isadora from seeing stars and left her feeling disconnected and adrift, but by midway, I just wanted her to stop going on about stars already. I did enjoy the use of dreams as portending inevitable doom. The breaks between chapters built tension that didn’t exist within the main story. When the action of the last few chapters begins, certain pieces seem too occur a little too conveniently, but it’s YA, so it’s not unexpected. The ending is satisfying and makes up for any hand waving that may have been done in the pages leading up to it.

The best thing about Chaos in the Stars though? It’s a standalone. A STANDALONE! These seem to be more and more unusual in YA publishing, so it’s nice to get a story started and over within 300 pages without having to mourn the fact that a year stands between you and the rest of the story. In the short number of pages White weaves together a well-researched and exciting story that has a swoon-ish love story that should appeal to anyone who loves YA fantasy fiction, but may be looking for something a little different from the vampires, werewolves, and the like that are the mainstays of fiction these days.

 

I received an advanced copy of this book through the Around the World ARC tour in return for an honest review.