If you are in the market for something different, Star Eater by Kerstin Hall has you covered. Set in a grimdark world, the book is about an authoritarian and aristocratic order of nuns that consumes the flesh of their order members to maintain superpowers similar to Spider-man. So, it’s certainly different from anything else I have read recently. It has a lot of creativity in its corner, but under its inventive concept sits a stereotypical dystopian YA novel that uses gore and edge to masquerade as adult SFF. By this I mean: the worldbuilding is thin, the plot feels rudimentary and focused on shock over substance, the characters have personalities based on tropes, and there is a love triangle.
The book follows Elfreda Raughn, a Sister of Aytrium and one of the de facto leaders of this civilization despite her youth. Elfreda feels trapped and confined to the terrible fate of the sisterhood – to live her life on a knife’s edge until her power overwhelms her, wherein she will be literally eaten by her fellow Sisters so that they can absorb her strength. To give Star Eater credit, I think it does a good job of exploring this core tenet of its story. Elfreda’s fear of death feels real and warranted, and her deteriorating mental state over the course of the book, as she wrestles with her role in society, does a good job raising poignant concerns about what it means to be a mother in the modern era. Is her body a commodity that can be traded? Why is it ok for society to pressure her into giving up everything to continue on a bloodline she isn’t invested in? I liked these themes and Star Eater has some interesting arguments and parallels to the real world. That being said, there isn’t a lot here other than these core themes.
The worldbuilding in Star Eater is bad. It took me almost 80% of the book to even slightly understand how life works in Aytrium. Technology levels are very confusing. I never understood how advanced civilization was and what the characters do and don’t have access to. We spend huge portions of time in what feels like a medieval era, and then a character will call a cab. Without a decent understanding of how the world worked, and the challenges that Elfreda couldn’t overcome, it was hard to buy into the various conflicts.
One plot element that takes up a large amount of page space is how sex with the Sisterhood works. If a Sister has sex with a woman, nothing bad happens – so we have a ton of gay Spider-man cannibals running around, which is a cool ass sentence. But, if a sister has sex with a man, she has a high chance of passing a magical STD to him that turns him slowly into an immortal insane serial killing demigod that can only be killed by literally throwing him off the edge of the world. Hopefully, this plot point helps demonstrate another problem with the story, the worldbuilding can be really weirdly specific in order to service the immediate plot.
Now this plot point by itself is fine, but the Sisterhood, concerned with creating too many male demi-problems, uses a breeding program with condemned criminals to impregnate younger members of the Sisterhood to continue their bloodline (which is how their magic is passed down). So we have a double sexual assault, in which both parties are vehemently against the sex but are being forced to do it by a third external party – and I hate it. Elfreda spends a lot of the book doing anything she can to get out of this ‘duty,’ a reaction I relate to enormously. While it was interesting to read her psychological struggles, I did not enjoy this plot point at all.
On top of all of this, there is a terrible love triangle between Elfreda and two siblings of opposite genders. She spends a lot of the book trying to decide between being with a woman who she loves with no downside or being with a man she loves while endangering the lives of literally everyone around her at all times, with no way to choose between them – which feels ridiculous and selfish given the context. Generally, the characters are all weak. They mostly feel vapid and shallow and usually only get a single defining feature to their personality. This is not a character-driven story.
Despite my obvious reservations with Star Eater, I do respect it for being original in a sea of sameness. If it did a little bit better at more concrete worldbuilding and adding more depth to its cast, I think it could have been a very exciting read. But, in its current state it feels like a YA book that is just a little too edgy for my taste.
Rating: Star Eater – 4.5/10