Saturday 16 February 2013

Review: The Name of the Star

Title: The Name of the Star (Shades of London #1)
Author: Maureen Johnson
Publisher: HarperCollins
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.


  1. I've been meaning to read this book for awhile since I want to read something by Maureen Johnson as well, so I'm thrilled you enjoyed this so much! :) Fantastic review, Aa'Ishah! I'll have to read this so we can compare thoughts! :D

  2. It's a shame about the romance, but I'm glad the rest of it worked really well for you! I think I'll have to pick this up sooner rather than later, especially with the Ripper theme. And like I said on Goodreads, I'm glad Rory is a likeable and funny character. She sounds like someone I'll probably get along with just fine. :)

  3. Great review Aa'Ishah! Completely agree on so many points, the little anecdotes and the way the UK can be seen through an American's eyes was hilarious. I didn't really connect with the romance either, it just kind of...happened, but the book was still pretty good :)

  4. I have this one, Aa'Ishah, I just never got around to reading it. The mystery aspect to it really grabbed me, but I didn't know she was an American in London and that makes me want to read it more. I have no idea what Blue Tak is or the Underground. I'm visiting London very soon. I'll be there in less than a month, so maybe I'll get to find out about some of this stuff. Wonderful review my dear! :)

  5. This sounds like a great book. I know the feeling about 20th century history, although I'm lucky to get to do the Tudors now.

    Still, no blue-tack? How bizarre. I thought everywhere had blue-tack. What do they have instead?

    I'll be adding this to my list of books to read, great review! :)

  6. Rory sounds like a great character! I bought this months ago but I still haven't started reading it. It's awesome to know that Johnson didn't shy away from the details of the Ripper cases. Loved your review, As'Ishah!

  7. I started this once but it just didn't grab me. I'm glad Johnson came through on so many points, but I'd probably find the (lack of) romance disappointing as well. I usually do. :)
    Great review!

  8. I just got this one the other day and I can't wait to read it, the sequel comes out soon and I have heard great things about this one.I am so glad it doesn't end on a cliffhanger! Thanks for your thoughts!

    Young Adult Book Haven


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