I adored the first book in the Starfell series when I read it last summer (check out my review here!), so I’m thrilled to report that book two is just as good, if not better!
Book: Starfell – Willow Moss and the Forgotten Tale by Dominique Valente, illustrated by Sarah Warburton
Read before: No
Publication date: 2nd April 2020
Ownership: Pre-ordered by me from Mostly Books. All opinions my own.
Content warning: Death of a grandparent and grief discussed; one rather scary illustration of the undead.
Willow Moss’s magic has gone wrong. Instead of making lost items appear, she keeps accidentally making things vanish! Even so, when she gets a message from her friend Nolin Sometimes asking for her to rescue him from kidnappers, Willow is determined to help, whether her magic is working or not. She sets off to find him, and uncovers rather more peril than she bargained for… Willow travels through a wide array of fascinating magical locations (a library town made of books and filled with librarian witches, for one!) and uncovers more danger than ever before, all while dealing with her new and unwelcome power. To say too much about the plot would be to spoil the fun twists in the quest, but rest assured it’s as exciting as it sounds!
The first Starfell book saw Willow blossom under the mentorship of Moreg Vaine, whose no-nonsense attitude pulled Willow out of her shell and allowed her to start standing up for herself. At the beginning of this second book, we see that Willow’s family, not believing in her adventure (that’s the trouble with saving a day no one remembers!) and worrying about her misbehaving magic, have knocked her self-esteem back down again – but rather than retreading the same emotional ground, this book is all about Willow making do on her own. Nolin Sometimes isn’t the only person missing – Willow can’t get hold of Moreg either, so she needs to step up as the leader of the quest herself. Soon she finds herself leading a crew of friends old and new across the whole of Starfell in order to find Nolin. I thought I was going to miss Moreg a lot, because she was one of my favourite characters in the first book, but Willow’s new friends are just as interesting, from sailor-wizard Holloway (who, one-legged and one-eyed, is a fantastically positive representation of a disabled character) to mysterious shapeshifter boy Sprig. There’s also plenty of Oswin, who is one of the best parts of the whole series! He’s a grumpy kobold who is NOT a cat and does NOT like adventures, and his constant interjections from Willow’s carpetbag (typeset in font of varying sizes to add drama!) always make me chuckle. Since the last book, his “oh nooOoOo”s have often been heard around our house when something goes wrong!
I adore Willow herself. Her combination of resourcefulness, determination, and kindness makes her a really endearing character – she’s up there for me with some of the greatest middle grade heroines! It’s a real joy to watch her come into her own, even as she struggles with self-doubt due to her magic going wrong. She also has to come to terms with her grief about her grandmother’s death, and seeing how her chosen community supports her in healing is beautiful and important. There’s SO much heart in these books – they really have a message that success comes from trusting yourself and your friends, and finding your own power. It all feels very realistic, emotionally, however fantastic the setting – I know I’m making it sound quite intense, but the character work is masterfully done through the adventure and action, so it feels natural rather than making an effort to hammer points home. Plus, there’s plenty of humour, especially from Oswin! The combination of such an exciting magical world with the writing’s wit and warmth makes Starfell the perfect comfort read. It’s beautifully illustrated throughout, too, with an amazing alternate cover underneath the dust jacket on the hardback.
If you have a reader who loves magic, strong girls, and adventure, then make sure they have these books to curl up with this autumn. There are threads left open for some seriously intriguing follow-up in the next book, which is coming in February – I know I’m going to be preordering as soon as possible! Five out of five kobolds (yeah, they look like cats, but we know they IS NOT)!