THE LORD OF STARIEL by A. J. Lancaster (BOOK REVIEW)
The Lord of Stariel opens with our main character, Hetta Valstar, returning home to her family’s estate after a long absence, so that she can attend her father’s funeral. As he was the Lord, there’s also another reason to come home; for the Choosing ceremony, where the land itself will pick the new Lord. Hetta doesn’t fit in with the traditional society at Stariel any more – she’s a modern woman who’s been working with a theatrical company in the capital city. Oh, and she’s an illusionist, which her family disapproves of.
The world of Stariel is on the brink of technological advances – there are electric lights and cars, but they are not commonplace yet. The capital, where Hetta has been living, is of course more advanced than the rural Stariel, and it’s interesting to see how Hetta, who has become accustomed to city life, struggles to fit back in at the estate. It’s fairly obvious from the start that although she’s initially dying to get back to her own life, she’ll be forced to stick around for plot purposes, and the book really gets going once this particular plot convenience is out of the way. From there, it’s an intricately plotted and fun story involving ancient fae oaths, sneaky inheritance plots, and Hetta’s realisation that her childhood best friend might be a whole lot more attractive than she remembered.
Hetta is a great, capable, intelligent, kickass heroine. I loved her from the get-go as she battles her need to be liked with her desire to tell her family to stop interfering in her life. She’s smart as a whip, and very resourceful, and I really enjoyed reading from her perspective. At the beginning of the book, there are so many characters introduced that it seems like you’ll never learn who they all are, but this really works to create the sense of the ancient, sprawling family of Stariel, and it quickly becomes clear who the key players are. At all times, Hetta has to think about the various members of her family as well as the practicalities of running the estate, which is a really nice touch that makes it all feel very believable. I thought she was brilliant for coping with it all!
This book is really hard to categorise. It’s not alternate history, as this is definitely a different world from ours, but it draws heavily on turn-of-the-20th-century England (enough to make the use of the phrase ‘she felt like she was waiting outside the principal’s office’ pretty jarring). It’s not exactly fantasy, as a lot of the story focuses on Hetta taking the reins of Stariel’s management and her misadventures with her family, which wouldn’t be out of place in a PG Wodehouse novel. There are romance elements (though nothing more than PG!), and folkloric elements, and plenty more besides, but what you end up with is a really cosy read that ticks a lot of my boxes. I think it would be perfect for fans of Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis as it has a similar vibe.
The twists and turns of the plot are enough that I won’t say anything more, but if you like your books quirky and fantastical, with a pinch of country house mystery, then you should definitely pick this one up. It’s really good fun, and I’m excited for the sequel!