I don’t remember exactly when this book hit my radar, but I knew from the minute I heard the title that it was going to be my kind of thing!
Book: Starfell: Willow Moss and the Lost Day by Dominique Valente
Read before: No
Ownership: E-ARC provided via NetGalley free of charge, but I pre-ordered a hard copy with my own money.
Capable girls doing magic (and learning that they are powerful with or without that magic) is my favourite thing in middle grade fiction, so I pretty much adored Willow’s journey in Starfell. Yes, she goes on a quest to find out what happened to last Tuesday (no one can remember it!), but she also finds self-confidence, self-esteem, and a new-found appreciation for the power even her seemingly small magic gives her.
Willow can find things that have gone missing, but in a family of large, loud talents involving fireworks and talking to the dead, she’s rather underappreciated – it takes no-nonsense and slightly intimidating witch Moreg Vaine to show her how to get out from the rut her community has forced her into. I loved the practicality of Moreg, and how she refuses to let Willow’s self-deprecation stand, and it’s great to see Willow blossom under the mentorship of someone who takes her seriously. Willow, allowed to shine, becomes someone who you want to be on an adventure with: quick-thinking, talented, and kind (all of which she was before, but perhaps didn’t realise). I don’t know if nine-year-old me would have wanted to be her best friend or just to be her!
When Willow sets off on her quest with Moreg, she takes with her the monster from under her bed: the grumpy kobold, Oswin, who insists he is not a cat, and complains vehemently about the indignity of being shoved into a carpetbag and taken adventuring. I adored Oswin – his little ‘oh no’s from the carpetbag made me giggle so much! I love a magical cat, and I love a grumpy animal sidekick, so Oswin ticked all my boxes. All the characters are brought to life amazingly by the inset black and white illustrations by Sarah Warburton – Oswin in particular is so characterful, and has some amazing facial expressions!
The mix of whimsy and practicality reminded me of both The Worst Witch and The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and Starfell would be an excellent read for those moving on from Mildred but a little young to meet Cimorene. The text is filled with different fonts, sizes, and styles of lettering, so it’s got a lot of energy and is begging to be read out loud, but it’s substantial enough to appeal to older readers too. There’s humour, and plenty of snark, but also some sensible messages about preparedness, friendship, and the power of realising what you’re worth.There’s a mysterious Brotherhood who hate magic (because of course, in this tale of women believing in themselves and their power, the antagonists are men who want to take that away). There’s also dragons, and trolls, and capital-R Rules, and witches, and female friendship, and magic plants, and familial love. It’s a book about magic, but also about finding yourself and making your own space in the world.
It’s absolutely fantastic, and I really really loved it! I can’t wait to return to Willow’s world in book two! Five out of five cats (or Oswins, if you squint)!