Recently, I've noticed that more and more novels with magical or supernatural elements have been set in some version of our world rather than in very different, completely invented universe. For example, paranormal romances such as Maggie Stiefvater's Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy (Shiver, Linger, and Forever) have magical elements but are grounded in present day America while popular fantasy adventures such as J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series create a magical world existing as a hidden part of the ordinary world. Even most dystopian novels such as The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins or Matched by Ally Condie take place in a potential future of Earth and the United States as we know them. Now don't get me wrong--I love these types of stories and find them exciting and intriguing, frequently because they tie into our world in such clever ways. However, I first fell into love with the fantasy genre through books that fit into a specific type of "high fantasy": stories in which our known world does not exist and instead the author creates an entirely new universe for the novel. Some of my favorites in this subgenre include Tamora Pierce's Tortall books, Sherwood Smith's Crown Duel, and Malinda Lo's Ash and Huntress. So, I was very excited to enter a new magical world with Elizabeth C. Bunce's Star Crossed, an imaginative novel that Tamora Pierce has listed as one of her "Picks for Cool New Books" on her website.
As a thief and spy for hire on the street of the busy city Gerse, Digger knows the rules of survival. When a job goes horribly wrong, Digger is desperate to obey the first two rules to the letter: stay alive and don't get caught. Through street smarts and luck Digger falls in with a group of young nobles leaving the city and so Digger the criminal becomes Celyn Contrare the lady's maid. Along with her new identity, Digger gains new friends and new home with the generous Nemair family. However, the peaceful mountain estate turns out to be full of hidden passages, illegal magic, and high stakes secrets--including Digger's own. Suddenly Digger finds herself breaking her last and most important rule: don't get involved. Now this professional liar must try to handle her most dangerous job yet: deciding where her loyalties truly lie.
Since I greatly enjoyed and admired Bunce's first novel, A Curse As Dark As Gold, I was very excited to read Star Crossed. Bunce brings the same rich character development and elegant plot creation that she displayed in Curse to her second novel. The world of this novel is fully developed and exciting to inhabit as a reader; drawing on diverse aspects of the Western European Renaissance, the fictional world has an established culture and complex political and religious structure that intensifies the drama and the suspense of the story's plot. Digger is a great main character; she is a strong and smart survivor with a complex past and hidden vulnerabilities. Also, as a sneak thief and an outsider, she is a perceptive observer and interesting narrator. However, the supporting characters are also strongly developed and equally complicated, a fact that makes the novel even more enjoyable. The story is exciting and Bunce reveals the intriguing complications slowly, pulling the reader in more and more as the plot enfolds. Occasionally, the complexities of the plot and cast of characters can become a little confusing and, while the novel has plenty of suspense and action, it might feel slow at times to readers who might be used to the more non-stop pace of sci-fi/fantasy adventures like The Hunger Games.
Overall, Star Crossed is well-crafted and enjoyable entrance into a new fantasy universe. I was very pleased to see that the sequel, Liar's Moon, will be published in November; I can't wait to see where Digger's adventures take her next! Star Crossed will pair well with other rich fantasy adventures featuring strong heroines such as those written by Tamora Pierce, Sherwood Smith, Malinda Lo, or Shannon Hale.