Yes. Yes indeed, Mr. Spock.
First things first, I cannot believe the ending of this book. The GALL. Oh, the gall. I'll give Ms. Bunce credit: she has balls to pull that off and I can't really be infuriated with her because she did it so damn well. But still. I was counting on her not to end it with a cliffhanger and she did, so that was a disappointment.
Therefore, the five star rating is actually six stars with one deducted. Got it? Good.
Now, how to review this book without spoiling the first...
Let's make an analogy out of it!
Remember this scene from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark?
The Majority Of YA Today is that horribly stereotypical pseudo-Arab bad guy with the sword and the fancy moves: not really giving you anything new, not packing a punch, just throwing lots of sparkles and flashy stuff at you and hoping you're impressed.
Elizabeth C. Bunce is Indy. She knows what she's doing. She doesn't have time for your flashy fluffy substanceless crap. She's going to take you down and then she's going to go on to kick even more ass.
And if that was too circuitous: Bunce PWNS.
Why, you ask? How about a list?
- Digger is a strong female character and she doesn't have to conform to masculine stereotypes to do it. A lot of people complain about this when it comes to Katsa of Graceling
: that she's only 'strong' because she does it The Male Way. Well, if that was your problem, look no further, because here's a thief who'll solve mysteries and fight wars in a skirt. Digger is... practical. Does it make more sense to dress as a man or a woman today? And whichever it is, so she goes. She doesn't feel out of place in dresses, except maybe the really fancy ones, and even in those cases she doesn't show it. Too often heroines who have no trouble fighting in trousers get sheepish in a gown - yes, even Alanna - and it's then used as an opportunity for her love interest to compliment her and build up her self-confidence - with the added bonus that it establishes that he really loves her. Not Digger. There are no such devices here. And while there is a love interest (I won't say who it is, but I'm pretty sure you can guess from the synopsis), he doesn't make a big deal about her 'dressing like a girl' because it's not so out of the way for her.
- The worldbuilding, as always, is fantastic. So many fantasy novelists want to have a Thieves' Guild, but it doesn't really ever make sense... until now. Bunce's solution is simple, elegant, and perfectly fitted to her world: the 'Guild' is actually more of a religion, since pretty much all thieves are followers of Tiboran. They have a priestess/leader (Eske is awesomesauce, by the way) who kind of bosses them around, but mostly they're as free-willed as you would expect. The structure is still present, though, and fairly believable.
Also, can I just mention how much I flipped out when I realized that I hadn't been reading the word 'moonlight' but 'moonslight'? Worldbuilding in every part of the novel is fantastic! Props to Ms. Bunce.
- The mystery is full of red herrings and twists and turns. As anyone who read StarCrossed can rightly expect, there are many many many more elements involved than readers originally thought. They're all tied up in the social, religious, and economic conflicts of a country at war - yet more
points in the worldbuilding department - and they raise the stakes enough over the course of the novel that it's never boring. Also, it felt sufficiently different from StarCrossed to be natural - not that disjointed 'murder of the week' form that some series or TV shows take. While that may be entertaining, this is far better storytelling.
- The relationships. There were at least four known gay characters and one very telling hint that suggested many more. While they weren't open about their relationships, it seemed to be a lot more for sociopolitical reasons and the need to stay in certain positions to do what they had to do than from any genuine fear, though there may have been some prejudice. Digger never batted an eye, which was what made me happy- she just acted as if this was not the least out of the ordinary. This is how it should be. Further props to Ms. Bunce.
This is the book in which we find out that Digger and Tegen were definitely lovers in the full sense of the word, and it's handled extremely maturely. No, really. Digger says something to the effect of "We knew we might not have much time", which I thought a suitably practical attitude for her, but she also displayed the type of emotional attachment that goes with such an intimate act. This comes up in conversation with Durrel- I don't think that's a spoiler- and while he's surprised, it doesn't take long for him to realize that of course people not as privileged as he would have different priorities.
(Also, Digger shows herself to be very confident in the relationship area, which was wonderful. I'd say more, but... spoilers!)
Romance does appear in this book, after its very logical absence in StarCrossed. And while Digger's love interest isn't my favorite male character of the series, they have great chemistry and I loved them together. There's also a good set up for conflict in their relationship inherent in a contrast of social and economic status. The way Bunce wrote their actual romance, when it came to that, was very appropriate and almost (but not quite) spare. There are no page-long descriptions of extended kissing and melting in your love interest's arms and how good it felt and blah blah blah blah blah. But it's not "we kissed and it was nice", either. It's a little sensual, but not too much. Very fitting for the couple, and that's all I'll say.
- I'm still loving the religions and the way they're woven into everything.
I think that's it... well, all that I can say without spoiling. There is absolutely no appearance of the 'carver' from the last book, which is saddening, but the way Liar's Moon ended tells me he'll be around in the sequel.
The ending is going to drive me batshit insane. I almost regret getting an ARC, because now I have to wait SEVEN EXTRA MONTHS to find out what happens next. OH THE AGONY.
(This copy was provided by the publisher via my local library for review. I love my library.)