Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Strange Star

Car35574996roll, Emma. Strange Star.
March 20th 2018 by Delacorte Press
Copy provided by the publisher

In 1816, Lord Byron invites Percy Shelley, his companion Mary Godwin and her sister, Claire, to the Villa Diodati in Switzerland. Felix, the black footman, narrates the story. The evening's entertainment is to tell scary stories. The group starts to tell their tales, but they are interrupted by a knock at the door. Since the occurrence coincided with a similar event in real life, this scares them, and they find a girl in great distress at the door. She seems to pass away before their eyes, but they manage to revive her in front of the fire. When she comes to, she asks for her sister, whom she accuses the Shelleys of kidnapping. We then delve further into Lizzie Appleby's backstory. She and her sister Peg live and farm with their parents in the English countryside. Their father is also a cabinet maker, and when a scientist moves to a big house in the area, the father takes a job making cabinets, leaving the girls to harvest. During a Midwinter's celebration, Lizzie's friend Mercy sees an omen that Lizzie and her mother will die in the coming year, which seems ridiculous, because both are hearty souls. When they are out desperately trying to finish work in the fields before a storm hits, both are hit by lightning. The mother dies, and Lizzie is in bed for months as well as blind when she finally takes the bandages from her eyes. Her sister, who loves animals but is considered a hellion, is intrigued by the scientist at the big house, and finds that evil doings are going on. Miss Stine, the scientist, invites both girls to live with her in order to be studied, but as the girls find out more and more about the evil occurring, she refuses to let them leave. This is why Peg leaves with the Shelleys, in order to escape. Mary Godwin's father comes after her and arranges with Lizzie to go with her to Switzerland to find them. This is a great help, since she is blind and has no money, but he only goes so far. Lizzie continues on her own and eventually finds her sister, but will the two girls be able to find somewhere where they can be safe?
Strengths: This is an intriguing group of people, and it is nice publication to honor the bicentennial of Frankenstein. Godwin is a fascinating character, and the inclusion of a story told by a simple country girl as the genesis of that book is an interesting fictional way to add some different elements to the mythology of this great tale. Details about country life in England in the early 1800s are very well done, and the difficulties faced by working families at the time are intriguing. Felix's perspective was also interested.
Weaknesses: There is not as much about the writers as I would have liked. While Lizzie and Peg's story was really interesting on its own, it wasn't exactly what I was expecting to read.
What I really think: This is a British publication, and I imagine that historical works about the early 1800s are in great demand in that country. I'm not sure about the appeal to young US readers, but creepy stories generally do well.

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