Solace & Grief and The Key to Starveldt

Solace & Grief

The Rare: books 1 & 2

a review by Nalini Haynes

Solace was born a vampire (not the sparkly kind, I assure you). Because Solace’s parents gave their lives to give her life, Solace grew up in a group home in Sydney, Australia. As she grew older she grew into her vampire-ness (growing up was part of the magic around her unusual heritage). When she turned 17 she ran away from the group home to find a group of friends living in a squat outside of mainstream society. These friends are all Rare, or people who are more than human in their abilities. Manx, Jess, Evan, Electra, Laine, Glide… There are 13 people in this group of friends whose lives revolve around the squat and the Gadfly, a bar where they spend the money Electra finds with her gift to acquire lost things.

Solace’s heritage and history starts to catch up with Solace and her friends. Villains expose themselves. Characters are not who they seem to be, and no-one is black or white, although some characters are blue. This is, in part, a coming of age story where the characters are finding out who they are. This includes sexual experimentation that is part of this growing up process; while not judgemental in any way, The Rare exposes some of the consequences of this kind of experimenting within one’s group of friends. Drug use is also mentioned, including a ‘bad trip’.

Joss Whedon has been criticised for having too large a cast of central characters in some series; the same criticism can be applied to The Rare, with a central group of 8 protagonists being overly large. However, this size group of friends allows for exploration of relationships in different ways that would otherwise be lacking.

In the beginning of Solace & Grief, a great deal of effort goes into exploring Solace’s group home, to the extent that I assumed the novel would revolve around the home and its inhabitants.

While the inhabitants of this group home are relevant to the story, Solace moves on and so does the story. The next portion of the story seems to dwell without direction, which is reflective of the lives of Solace and her friends at the squat. At about page 150 I was thinking that, while this has features of good storytelling, it hadn’t grabbed me. I decided that it was due to lack of conflict. Within a few short pages the conflict really started and the story took off, flying until the end of the second novel, the Key to Starveldt, where we have to wait for the next in the series to be released (note: the 3rd book doesn’t seem to have been published yet, as of January 2013 🙁 )

Key to Starveldt

The Rare series has elements of Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, Friends (the TV series) and Buffy. As such, I’d recommend this series for fans of all the above. Although I’d be cautious about giving this series to younger teens, I would highly recommend The Rare for senior high schoolers and older readers as a means of exploring issues while enjoying a good read.

Originally published in Dark Matter issue 6, November 2011.  This blog has been pre-dated to reflect the date of original publication.