Monday, 24 February 2014 16:02

‘Labyrinth of Stars:’ Advance Book Review

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Labyrinth of Stars is the fifth installment in Marjorie M. Liu’s urban fantasy series, Hunter Kiss. Maxine and Grant are expecting their daughter, the child who should inherit Maxine’s mantle as hunter, but Grant is also losing his strength after becoming a demon lord to four clans. The pair must balance their relationship, caring for flesh-eating non-humans on modern Earth, and Maxine’s natural drive to eradicate demons to keep their fragile world intact; however, powerful forces fear the birth of Maxine and Grant’s gifted daughter and seek to fulfill the prophecy of Maxine being the last Hunter Kiss by killing the child in the womb. How far will this mother go to protect her child, and will a mysterious plague that threatens all life on Earth tip the scales?

The plot summary for Labyrinth of Stars intrigued me from the moment I read it, and it should have been a book that I adored due to its meticulous world building, amazing demons, a capable female protagonist, and being set in my home state. I can chalk part of my confusion and disappointment up to not realizing that it’s the fifth book in a series (I’m usually a stickler for reading things in order.), but once I gained traction in Liu’s carefully constructed world, I realized I just hadn’t connected with Maxine on an emotional level. As a result, it was hard to feel terribly invested in her struggles and adventures, and the scant page count felt interminable.

However, before I dissect my personal reaction to the protagonist, I must gush about how much I enjoyed the various demons presented throughout the novel. Maxine’s “boys” made me feel warm and fuzzy, like I was thinking about someone’s incredibly powerful and destructive pets, and the love and devotion the Shurik showed Grant briefly made me feel less antipathy toward leeches/worms and the like. The Yorana, Mahati, and Osul demon tribes were also well characterized, and I had a sense of their different customs and ideologies from their appearances in the text. None of them were creatures I wanted to take home (It was abundantly clear they were only restrained with Grant and Maxine, because Grant had become their lord.), but they were intriguing to me in their ability to be both horrifying and gentle. Oturu, Maxine’s strange, shadowy protector, also moved me in ways that I didn’t expect. The revelation about the interior of his cape broke my heart, because it was both beautiful and frightening.

I can’t pinpoint an exact reason for why Maxine felt so two dimensional to me; the writing is well-done, and Maxine definitely isn’t a perfect character. Some of my coolness may stem from my personal experiences, since, as someone who doesn’t yearn for children, I can’t fully relate to a woman who would sacrifice everything for her unborn child. I also didn’t completely buy into Grant and Maxine’s relationship. The story often told me how close the couple were, especially since Maxine was the first Hunter Kiss to try to have a marriage and family rather than becoming pregnant through a random fling, but I never believed the strength of their bond. As a result of my lack of connection to Maxine, the first person protagonist, I struggled with caring about the outcome of the story. I never felt worried for her welfare or believed that she might not survive. (I did believe that Grant could die, but because I lacked a sense of their strong bond, I also lacked reader empathy for Maxine’s plight.)

My second complaint with Labyrinth is that the story didn’t fully coalesce until about halfway through the book. I spent the first 150 pages searching for a realized villain or antagonist rather than vague hints at Aetar fearing Maxine’s Hunter/Lightbringer hybrid daughter and a strange illness affecting the demons. When The Devourer finally became the focus of the quest, the plot began to pick up, but I wasn’t really engaged until the main cast entered the Labyrinth. The fantastical elements of the world overrode my misgivings about characterization, and Maxine’s quest finally had a purpose I believed worthwhile.

Overall, Labyrinth of Stars wasn’t my cup of tea, but I’m sure that fans of the entire series will love the latest installment. Maxine changes in ways no one could anticipate, and the last fifty or so pages have enough action, mystery, and challenges to keep even someone marginally interested, like myself, riveted. If ball-busting, strong-willed heroines make your world go round, start with The Iron Hunt (Book 1) and give Maxine Kiss and her demon “boys” a go!


3 Fiercely Protective Reaper Kings out of 5

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Jodi Scaife, Fanboy Comics Contributor

Mid-30s geek type with a houseful of pets, books, DVDs, CDs, and manga