A review by Nalini Haynes
I adored the Ten Thousand Doors of January and the Once and Future Witches so I expected to love Starling House. Then I read the author’s note included prior to the story opening. I usually skip over these because I want to approach a book without forming prior opinions. But with expectations firmly in place and an author’s note at the beginning not the end, I felt compelled. Harrow’s other books are about her heroes running away (or towards?) something. Starling House is about a girl who stayed. Harrow was only able to write this novel after she moved away from her home town. I was hooked before I began reading…
Red hair and a flaming temper
Opal has flaming red hair and a flaming temper to go with. She grew up dirt poor in a small town next to a power plant poisoning the countryside. A book from her childhood, Underworld, waits under her bed for her to recover it and parse the clues it holds. Written by the woman who built Starling House, there are secrets within riddles within enigmas.
Also there are familiar tropes. Starling House, its book within a book and many of the other tropes evoke half-buried memories for me. I can’t name the previous novels but I’m sure Harrow read at least some of the same stories I did growing up. I am reminded of talking to Simone Howell about a story, I couldn’t name a single related novel then Simone reeled off several including Charlotte Sometimes and many others I read and loved as a child.
Starling House isn’t just about the girl who stayed, it’s about nostalgia, family – blood and found – and small town people. And it feels very nostalgic while also focusing on facing your fears and conquering them.
Starling house reads like a horror but I can’t cope with “real” horror. So let’s say it has horror themes. It’s no darker than Buffy and weaves in many similar themes. I’m calling it dark fantasy, found family, small town, and coming of age.
Sure, Opal is an adult but she grew up so fast that she forgot to actually grow up. Also, like many abused and neglected children, she’s a bit porcupine and turtle. Porcupine in the sharp quills that HURT others when she’s scared. Turtle in that she pulls in, pulls away, when things get too hard. Opal needs to learn to build bridges to relate to those who love her and to recognize who is worth the effort.
If you’ve read any of my other reviews of Harrow’s books, you know I love and adore her work. This is no different. As someone who has moved and moved and moved again, I think I relate more to Harrow’s other books. And yet, here I am back in Melbourne after 7 years in the bigoted ableist hell that was Canberra. Here I am building bridges with family, with friends both new and old. I adore Opal and her journey, her hero’s journey where she stays in the same place and changes the world.
I highly recommend Starling House.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Imprint: Tor UK (PanMacmillan Australia)
Format: Trade Paperback, 320 pages
Category: Fiction, Fantasy, romance, horror themes