I didn’t know what to expect when going into this, but I was happy to find that The Star-Spun Web is a semi-steampunk tale of science, alternate universes, and saving oneself, with an excellent heroine!
Book: The Star-Spun Web by Sinead O’Hart
Read before: No
Ownership: E-ARC provided free of charge by NetGalley for review. All opinions my own.
Middle grade is the perfect place to show off heroines who love science, and Tess, the protagonist of this book, is a fascinating character to read about. She’s quirky from the get-go, but not in an irritating, overdone way – she just feels like a girl who knows her own mind and her own tastes. Most people probably wouldn’t be keen on a tarantula living on their heads, but Tess loves Violet, her constant companion! (Spider-fearers, don’t worry, description of Violet is minimal and I found it fine to read!) Tess endeared herself to me the moment she appeared on the page, with her wilfulness and her love of experiments – you just know you’re in for an adventure as you follow her.
And adventure is definitely what we get, as Tess discovers that there are, in fact, multiple universes beyond her own, and she has the power to travel between them with the help of a strange artefact: the star-spinner. To reveal too much about the parallel worlds would be to spoil some of the best twists and gasp-moments in the plot, but this was well-written, easy to understand, and very exciting!
My favourite part about this book, though, actually had little to do with the plot. Instead, what I loved most was Tess’s family – her found family. She grew up in a home for foundlings, and the traditional children’s book thing would be for the matrons to be strict and the other children to be cruel. But no. The community at Ackerbee’s is so supportive and loving. It was a delight to read about Tess’s passions and quirks being supported, and I loved that even though the story moves her out of Ackerbee’s quite quickly, Ackerbee’s will not leave her to her fate. Most of all, I was just thrilled by the presence of adults who treat children as equals, who explain things matter-of-factly, who tell kids that they are perfect the way that they are, however weird they are. Oh, and it’s strongly implied that the mistresses of Ackerbee’s are in a long-term, loving, same-sex relationship, which is also fantastic to see. Women supporting women is a strong theme in this book, and it was delightful!
This is a really fantastic addition to the ranks of middle-grade adventure, with fantasy. sci-fi and historical elements making this very much my cup of tea. Anyone with an interest in girls doing science or girls supporting girls should read it, but also anyone that just wants a really exciting read. Four out of five cats!