Another review by Julie!
You may or may not have seen that I reviewed Heartless by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. I found it a rather heavy-handed allegory with a (purposely?) unlikable heroine, and didn't much care for it. The CSFF blog tour did Starflower a while back, but due to a glitch I didn't get my copy. Rebecca LuElla Miller generously sent me a free copy, which got interrupted TWICE (first, my ebook loan of The Skin Map came in, and then the Sigmund Brouwer CSFF tour started a week earlier than I anticipated so I had to get to work on those books).
Usually when I put down a book and then come back to it later, I read with a much more critical eye. As often as not, it's a struggle to get back into the story. The fact that even after a two-week hiatus, I still enjoyed this book, for the most point uncritically, shows that this book is an excellent match to my tastes.
My main disappointment is that this was by far my best chance to prove to the CSFF blog tour gang that I'm not just a jerk who doesn't like any books, but I missed the tour. Ah well.
Starflower by Anne Elisabeth Stengl
Ridiculously simplified summary: Faerie playboy Eanrin seeks to save the fair lady Gleamdren from her wicked captor. But he finds a mysterious, silent, mortal princess who unexpectedly captures his attention. She has secrets of her own.
Content: I didn't notice any particularly graphic violence. I'm not sure the Christian elements would really work or make sense to a non-Christian; they seemed better fitted to a Christian audience to me. (That's not a bad thing; Christians need to read too!) For a while it does seem like the people who are similar to old-time Native Americans are outright sexist/evil (to the extreme) but there is an explanation, at least.
Compelling: 9 out of 10. I found the beginning rather slow and dull, as I didn't care a bit about the Faerie Court (in fact, I still don't). Initially, the villain even seems like a retreading of the exact same transformations we saw in Heartless, so alarm bells were going off. But some point after Eanrin starts his journey, I started to care. By the time Starflower finally gets to tell her story (which was a bit jarring, as it takes place in a completely different world and society) I was hooked.
Characters: 9 out of 10. Eanrin is at least as selfish as Princess Una from Heartless, but he has that kind of self-assured arrogance that (at least when it comes to romance novel heroes) can be rather charming to read about. His faerie nature also works to make him likeable. Starflower is a dull character at first but as her storyline progresses, she becomes much more interesting and likable. She is good, yet interesting. The minor characters are less nuanced, with the villainess losing her temper not unlike Princess Una in Heartless. But they were all right, and Eanrin and Starflower carried the book.
Writing/editing: 8 out of 10. I'm reviewing this aspect well after I read the book...I do recall a bit of head hopping, and the beginning did little to draw me in. But I really enjoyed the allegory and thought it worked very well. I still think of Eanrin's experience in (in effect) hell. Overall I thought the story flowed well, once the slower beginning.
Plausibility/believability: 4 out of 5. Some reviewers on Goodreads had some problems with plausibility...I was surprised by the twists and turns, but I love the blending of two clashing, even contradictory worlds (in this case, the magical world of faerie and the ancient-style world of native humans).
Positive: 5 out of 5. Simply brilliant allegory that seemed to stem from the characters instead of controlling them. I loved the Christian message, delivered to Christians.
Gut reaction: 5 out of 5.
Bonus points: 5 out of 5.
Recommended for: Any fan of Christian fantasy romance.
Total Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
*I received a free copy of this book.