Series: Shades of London #1
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
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Rory Deveaux is just a typical American teen, anticipating a year of boys with accents and bizarre British customs as she settles in at her new London boarding school. But Rory's in for a lot more than she bargained for, as London finds itself in the grip of a brutal serial killer -- a man imitating the grisly murders of Jack the Ripper more than a century ago. A man no one can see. No one, that is, except Rory.
In The Name of the Star, Maureen Johnson's signature snappy style creates an unexpected blend of humor and horror, and readers will be surprised to find themselves laughing aloud in the midst of this gruesome nightmare. Jack the Ripper holds a morbid fascination for modern imaginations, a twisted awe at getting away with murder -- literally. Johnson strategically plays off this strange seductiveness to draw unsuspecting readers into a heart-pounding thriller laced with a deadly taste of déjà vu.
Rory is an utterly disarming heroine. With her easy southern charm, quirks and quips, her narration is delightful to read. Her fresh, light voice provides a striking counterpoint to the otherwise grim tale, and the outrageous stories she tells of her eccentric family back home will leave readers in fits of laughter. Rory is so full of life, readers will feel as though they've known her their whole lives. She's a believable blend of determination and occasional fear, optimism and wry wit. She's not perfect; sometimes she does dumb things, as humans are wont to do -- and her guileless, unassuming attitude makes her all the more winning. It's impossible not to cheer for Rory as she struggles with this unfathomable new world and determinedly faces off against an unstoppable, remorseless killer.
Despite her heartwarming and hilarious heroine, Johnson slices a sharp blade of terror through the novel. There is a terrible irony in the fact that the citizens of London know exactly when and where each murder will happen, but are powerless to stop it. By drawing on the sensationalism of Jack the Ripper, Johnson takes the latent fear and turns it into a bone-chilling nightmare. The horror and hopelessness increase with each grisly crime scene, and a sense of despair settles over the novel as London sits helplessly by. Readers will be on the edge of their seats with their hearts in their throats as this hair-raising thriller marches inexorably toward its terrifying conclusion.
Johnson brings each and every one of her secondary characters to life, from Rory's hilarious house mother and boisterous field hockey coach (an activity of which Rory is not a fan), to her smart and sweet crush/make-out partner, to the man behind the mayhem. This world is richly populated and skillfully sketched. London itself is crucial to the atmosphere, its foggy, ancient streets the perfect setting for crimes of the past.
The blending of history and fantasy will appeal to fans of all genres -- whether they enjoy murder mysteries or ghost stories, historical fiction or contemporary, The Name of the Star has it all. As the novel opens, it's easy to forget our heroine lives in a paranormal world. Rory is so realistic, like your best friend or the girl-next-door, that readers will find themselves caught up in her boarding school exploits, forgetting the cold reality that lies just around the bend -- until it's already too late.
Disclosure: I received an advance galley of this novel at BEA for an honest review.