Title: The Name of the Star (Shades of London #1)
Author: Maureen Johnson
Released: 29th September 2011
Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Jack the Ripper is one of those topics I really wish they'd cover in the History syllabus for school. Instead it's 20th century this, and 20th century that. Even at A level - which, for all you non-British, non-TNofS readers, are the two years of excrutiating study we have before university, in which we study four and then three subjects respectively, of our own choosing - the syllabus for the vast majority of the time is an unimaginative, repetitive look at 20th century European and USA history, just in loads more detail. So when I saw that Maureen Johnson had chosen to set her story around Jack the Ripper, and in my home city of London, I instantly knew I had to read it. And, I am delighted to say, it did not disappoint.
Rory Deveaux moves from Louisiana to London to study at Wexford Academy. The same day she arrives, the first in a string of copycat murders takes place. Someone has killed a woman in exactly the same way that Jack the Ripper murdered his first victim. As the murders continue, with the murderer leaving absolutely no trace of themselves despite all the CCTV cameras, London becomes more and more afraid, the media more and more frantic. Rory herself gets swept into a world she didn't even know existed. And it all starts with her seeing a strange man that no-one else can see. It's not long before it's her turn to be a target of the new Ripper.
It's clear that Johnson knows her stuff, right from the beginning. The information given to us in terms of the Ripper cases is clear and detailed. The whole nature of these crimes is completely dark and horrific, and I'm glad that the author didn't shy away from that. The pacing of the first half was somewhat slow, but after a while I actually didn't mind, instead enjoying learning about the boarding school Rory's at and how she settles in. The second half was engaging with its plot developments. Rory herself is just hilarious. Seriously. I really didn't expect this book to be so funny, and yet there were parts where I just had to laugh at Rory's take on things. To begin with, it was amusing to see how shocked she was at the culture difference between here and America, to have to learn different phrases and grow used to the cold and never-ending rain. I still can't believe that Blu-Tack doesn't exist in America. It's just so weird to think about. And the Underground. Oh my God. Rory got so excited about tubes and the Underground, you'd think she was Arthur Weasley. She also had loads of anecdotes from her life in America that she referred to. Rory was independent, down-to-earth and generally really likeable.
I mentioned plot developments. I love the different ideas that Johnson has brought together here. You can tell she had a clear image of what she wanted in this story, and it all came together nicely. The take on Jack the Ripper here is not one you're going to find elsewhere. All the characters generally had their own voice, and I liked how there weren't any stereotypes. What I didn't quite understand, however, was the romance. There was no insta-love, there was no love triangle, but...the romance itself was barely there. The way it was introduced wasn't exactly obvious, and I didn't understand why Rory and her guy of choice were together. I mean, they're both likeable characters, but I didn't get their relationship. The love interest himself is also slightly weird, and I couldn't really see how Rory was so comfortable with it, at least without asking him about it. You'll see what I mean if you read it. Having said that, though, there was something about him that I liked. And for some reason he sounded unbearably cute when he quoted those Spice Girls lyrics. I'm weird, I know.
This being the first book by Maureen Johnson that I've read, I'm sufficiently impressed. Romance aside, this is a well-rounded novel with an intriguing plotline. I appreciated the development of the secondary characters, Alistair and Jazza being particular favourites, and reading from Rory's perspective was truly wonderful. The ending isn't a cliffhanger, but it's definitely a brilliant opening for the sequel - which, luckily for me, I have and will hopefully be starting relatively soon. I highly recommend this to those of you who haven't read it yet.