Woof! This has been a long time coming. And for that, I owe G.S. Taylor an apology. This review was due a while ago, but with the bronchitis knocking everything back, getting this review out and onto the screen has taken far, far longer than expected. But better late than never, and now at last you, my readers, finally have a chance to take a look at my thoughts on Seven-Point Star, Taylor’s first novel.
So let’s get one thing out of the way first: Seven-Point Star is a fairly solid appearance from a new author, with plenty of strong points to it. If you’re looking for the short, 100% blind, spoiler-free review, that’s it. Seven is a fairly strong first work that, especially at the price, is worth picking up and reading through, especially if you’re the kind of reader that admires the particular strengths it does put on display … or if you just enjoy quick alternate history/fantasy reads.
What are those strengths, you might ask? Well, for the spoiler-free summary, here you go—I found the protagonist to be strongly written, mostly in her perspective and unstable teenage vantage point, and the world itself—what we’re given anyway—is almost like a Sci-Fi-Crystal Fantasy fairy tale in the way it comes across. Both these elements stay pretty solid through the course of Seven-Point Star, and if you’re looking for something that delivers those, well, Seven-Point Star will satisfy your thirst … though you will notice weaknesses that run counter to those strengths. In my personal opinion, however, the strengths are just enough to make up for the weaknesses and carry the title on above average. So you’re still going to get a decent read provided you appreciate the strengths for what they are.
Right, with the short, spoiler-free summary out of the way, let’s get a bit more loose with how much this review gives away—without giving away too much, but I will have to reveal a few general concepts as we dive into the book. Hit the jump for spoiler-town!
Aha! You’ve arrived. Well then, let’s get down to business, starting with the plot of Seven-Point Star. What’s it about?
Well, simply put, it’s the story of a thief. But not just any thief. A particularly good teenage thief named Raina, or as she’s known to the public at large, Der Poltergeist. And yes, you read that right. Why a German nickname? Well, because Germany won the war! No, not the second world war … but the first (so, in fact, the second never happened). And as a result, Germany is now the pinnacle example of global industry and power. And Raina—Der Poltergeist—has a real bone to pick with them.
As you may be guessing, Star opens with a strong hand, starting with some of its strongest elements: That of the alternative, magitech-world it’s set in (which is like a fusion of 50s art-deco and crystalline fantasy magic), and the mind and actions of its protagonist, Raina. Simply put, both are strong, though for different reasons. Raina, the protagonist and viewpoint character, is every bit the stubborn, angry teenager … A fact which is carried over clearly throughout the book both in the perspective—all first-person—and it what Raina does and says. She talks a big talk, mouths off when pressured, and puts on a tough front to hide a lot of tumult that’s been following her around her entire life in a background I won’t spoil here. But at the same time, there’s a sense of … I almost want to call it “hesitation” … to her words. Like most teens, she puts on a tough front, both to protect herself and to show a form of confidence when in truth she’s playing things mostly by ear. She’s unsure of herself. Unsure of her direction, even her motives. She has plenty of doubts, but like most teens, she’s not quite sure what to do with them—and some of it does boil down to “bury it or act on it.”
And this is all shown, rather than told. Nowhere does Taylor ever have anyone tell the reader “This is what Raina is like” (well, maybe perhaps during a few moments of other characters calling her out on her actions, but even then that’s not the author or the narration doing the telling). Her character is all shown. Shown in what she says, what she does. In how she randomly switches her plans … or sometimes doesn’t plan at all while acting like everything is fine.
To be fair, I can sense that some readers would grow tired of her character. A personality as hostilely unsure as Raina’s can be a drag after a while, but personally while it came close a few times, it never had me putting down the book in boredom. Though there were moments of “Why would you do … Oh. Right. Teenager …” none of them ever became moments where I wanted to put the book down. They were a character making poor decisions, but they fit with what was already established, and so I wasn’t bothered by them, even if they weren’t the smartest choices ever.
Meanwhile, the world itself is every bit as strong as Raina’s own, forceful character, though in very different ways that are alien yet at the same time familiar to our own. Seven takes place in a world where a force that is, for all intents and purposes, magic has taken the place of science—or more accurately, ursurped it, at least once scientists started to figure out how to generate it with simple electronic devices and circuits rather than just with individual’s base talents.
The result is a world that’s a bit like, well, the aforementioned crystal-Sci-Fi/Fantasy dystopia, mixed with this alternate history where the German forces and their allies won the first (and now only) world war, largely through their use of magitech weapons and the work of a few brilliant minds that made it happen. The result is a German nation backed by the most powerful company on Earth—Sorĉeko, the premier and top-dog at both creating and advancing magitech. And yes, make no mistake, it is magitech. Elevator doors open when hands are waved … but are backed by magic “circuitry” carved into glass and crystal. Cars and trucks can fly, but again, same principle. Windows are lined with runes that prevent heat from escaping, doors can baffle sound … When we’re given depictions of this world, it really does bring to mind a fairy-tale crystal castle built out of a fusion of magic and technology. Even cars (which now fly) and guns have changed. Crud, gunpowder is even outed as a foreign substance over weapons that fire lightning or plasma-like blasts.
It sounds almost cliche … but Seven pulled it off well-enough for me to buy into it. For starters, the opening of the book makes it clear that despite all the glitz and glamour, there’s something rotten backing it all. Sure, the world is nice if you have all this stuff … but most people don’t. In fact, it’s only the noble, ruling class—the elite of the elite that got to stay in power now that Germany has won—that have the best at their fingertips.
Then again, living in Germany or inside the borders of one of its allies is better than the alternative, since at least you’ll see that glitz and glamour and have a chance to work with it. Outside of the borders of Germany’s allies? Things get a lot rougher, particularly for nations that happened to have stood against Germany during the war, finding themselves on the opposite end of the victor’s dema—Ahem, rightfully earned spoils.
Oh, and then there’s America, which never even entered the war due to their complete distrust of magic, a distrust that has the rest of the world treating them like a backwater rube for sticking to science (which we never do confirm or deny, as we’re given almost no picture of what America may be like, aside from still clinging to early 1900s isolationism). Or Russia, who stuck to mostly the same history as the real world … right up until the new communist regime slammed a literal curtain of lightning down around their borders, closing them off from the world.
Of Africa we don’t hear much. Or the rest of Asia (more on this trend, if you’ve noticed it, later). But that said, the world that is presented, even through the eyes of its protagonist? It’s strong, clever, and fairly well brought-to-life as our protagonist moves through it.
Speaking of which, while some of you may be sold on a well-written protagonist and a clever world, I’m sure there are those of you who are thinking “Right, right, but what’s it all about? Some thief playing at being a Robin Hood?”
No, it isn’t. Though to give fair warning, it does start that way. Or at least, close to it. Raina, despite whatever she may think, is less a “Robin Hood” and more of a petulant brat who likes wrecking the toys of the rich and powerful to see them squirm—though even the opening makes her pettiness clear to the reader, as blind as she is of it. The opening even makes it clear that despite what she thinks, she’d not actually accomplishing much—her targets lose face socially, and some cash, but for the most part seem completely indifferent as far as their standing goes.
Like I said, she’s really in it for personal pride and satisfaction, not that she admits it.
But no sooner do we get used to what Raina is out and about accomplishing than things go horribly, horridly wrong, and that’s when both the readers and Raina learn that the same natural magic talent she carries that makes her so good at being Der Poltergeist—an ability to pass through runes and magic fields like she doesn’t exist magically—has also made her a very valuable person of interest to the Sorĉeko corporation … and to its mysterious, powerful leader Luca, a woman who for all intents and purposes runs the world from Sorĉeko’s floating headquarters (Oh yes, and it’s even built around a city).
From here, Raina’s life spirals further out-of-control than it already was, cascading from prison, torturous experimentation, and the sealing of her magic powers to the floating sky-city of Sorĉeko itself as her almost aimless life suddenly finds its direction acted upon by multiple competing interests thanks to her position, notoriety, and once powers. From there, the story moves at a brisk, quick pace through to the end. And while the pace is one that will keep you reading—especially as the protagonist’s own indecisiveness can lead to a sense of “wanting to know what’s going to happen on the next page”—the straightforward manner in which it moves forward does serve to highlight one of the larger weaknesses of the story.
It’s too to the point. If you’re familiar with horizontal and vertical storytelling, then this story? Almost purely horizontal. Which suddenly makes one of its greatest strengths—the world in which it resides—a liability. Reading Seven-Point Star, I kept feeling as if I had been presented with a beautifully decorated slice of cake, but then, just as I was about to take a bite, found that the frosting was actually a bit of decorative plastic rather than something I could sink my teeth into, and that the cake, while tasty, was so light and fluffy that a bite only felt half-there.
And, quite honestly, that’s one of the biggest weaknesses of Seven: It’s that cake. It sets up a beautifully clever world … but then hardly ever explores it. There’s all this magitech discussed, presented … and then never touched upon again, whisked away as the plot moves onward without so much as a goodbye wave. Even some of the more interesting elements in the story that started to dig into the depths behind the world, such as a scientist’s debate over whether the magic they all used was an intuitive magic that could accomplish anything … or just another science bound by rules that man had yet to discover, or a few mentions of different schools and styles of the runic-circuits that make up magitech, simply end up feeling like plastic bits atop the cake: You want to know more, want to see what happens … and then the story moves on, never really answering any of the questions it raises or digging in deeper to what it’s presented the reader. Crud, even Raina’s unique magic power runs afoul of this: We see her use it, see it do cool stuff … and then it’s gone, blocked by a chip in her brain, never to appear again. And sure, it’s all in pursuit of hitting the next story beat, but at the same time, by the end of the story I was frustrated at not getting to see any more of the world that was so tantalizing from the very beginning. Earlier, when I mentioned Africa? Or Asia? Well … you know they exist, but nothing further is given past that. And it’s a real shame, because what is given is very nicely put together. There’s a world that’s been built here … you just don’t get to see much of it, even when you’re straining to do so.
Worse, however, is that this lack of depth carries over to some of the story’s deeper elements, including the ending. I’m still not certain why Sorĉeko needed Raina for their research. Endgame-level plot points? Sure. But was everything before that just a flimsy pretext? I couldn’t say for certain. I know that there were reasons given, but they were partial answers. Crud, the magic she had suppressed was repeatedly given as a reason as to why a special, physics-ignoring magic suit was being tested on her … but we never find out what the reason was. Raina would ask, the answer would be ‘your magic,’ and we’d never get any further explanation as to why. Kind of a letdown, honestly.
As I said, however, this kind of vague depth extends to one of the most important parts of the book as well: The ending. Don’t get me wrong, stuff happens. People die, major events shake the world, our protagonist makes some tough choices, and then you get the resolution at the end … But it doesn’t exactly resolve much. Without spoiling the ending, it does answer some questions … including a few at the core of the story, but at the same time it leaves many more unanswered. To the degree that I actually expected to find that there was a sequel coming that would explore the titanic ramifications of the ending … but, unfortunately, there isn’t one, at least not at this time.
And that’s not good. Ultimately, as I turned the final page and set my kindle down, the ending left me only … half-fulfilled. It certainly ties up almost most things for the protagonist, but at the same time, with so much of that larger world left hanging in the air, resolutions only hinted at, well … It only worked halfway for me. It was an ending that left me feeling incomplete after so much had happened.
But even so, an incomplete ending is better than no ending, and while it did leave plenty of open, airy patches of cake I would have liked to have seen filled even in the slightest, it was still an ending that wrapped other aspects of the story up. Weak and open ended as it may have been, with a tantalizing depth that never surfaced, Seven-Point Star is well-written enough that I would have easily and fairly given it a solid three stars. The characterization for the protagonist is good (even if some may find Raina’s character grating, and some of the characters around her come off as fairly two-dimensional, likely again in pursuit of that beat-to-beat action), and the plot, aside from some odd moments and the lull in the first few chapters, moves along at a brisk pace.
But honestly, it’s the world standing out as a character of its own—even one that isn’t given more than a two-dimensional glance, despite the detail—that pushes Seven-Point Star just up enough to earn a partial fourth star, in my opinion. While it’s not nearly as much as I feel it could have been, and the empty ending still holds it back, what is given of the world feels like a fascinating place that really did come to life whenever it was given focus on the pages.
Ultimately, it’s a strong initial offering from G.S. Taylor, though not without some missteps. The whimsical and creative alternate world on display is a great sign of future creative offerings, the primary character and protagonist came across cleanly, as did the trials and decisions she was put through, and overall, it’s a solid little story to pass the time with. Those few missteps and an unfortunately neutered ending do keep it from moving into a solid four stars in my book, but the cleverness of the world on display and the little elements surrounding it were enough to keep it from being a three as well. So I’ll round up. There’s simply enough here that points to a promising future that I would be curious to see what came next—whether or not it tied up this book’s loose ends or was a new work entirely.
Look, I’ve said a lot here … and to be quite frank, I know some of you really don’t care about all the details. At the end of the day, you just want to know the answer to one question: should I read this?
Honestly? If the setting and protagonist sound appealing to you, then yes. It’s not without flaws, but there’s some fun elements and neat worldbuilding buried in there too. Especially if you’re the type of reader that enjoys fantasy-alt-history or magitech. If that’s the kind of thing that makes you sit up and take interest, then give Seven-Point Star a look.
It suffers from a few missteps, but there’s enough offered to still make for an entertaining read. A strongly-realized central character and a clever world stand out as strong elements, shoring up the weaker areas along the way.
Seven-Point Star by G.S. Taylor can be found at Amazon.com!