‘Star Cursed’ by Jessica Spotswood: A Stunning Sequel with a Refreshing Take on Teen Romance
Apologies for the fawning that is about to follow, but sometimes you read a book and you just can’t help but tell people how fabulous it is. Star Cursed is one of those books, for a number of reasons. I won’t dwell too much on the first few reasons, because they’re fairly self-explanatory. The story is fast-paced and engaging, propelling itself towards the jaw-dropping ending that will leave you frantically searching for the release date of the next book.
For those of you who haven’t read Born Wicked, the first book in the Cahill Witch Chronicles, Spotswood introduced us to a world of forbidden magic, set in a reimagined late nineteenth-century New England where the strict ban on witchcraft is enforced by a malevolent oligarchy known as the Brotherhood. When Cate Cahill discovers that she’s a gifted witch, and the most likely candidate to fulfill a game-changing prophecy, she goes to great lengths to hide her magic and protect her two younger sisters from the Brotherhood.
I’m not usually a big fan of witch-oriented books, but this series completely sucked me in. Not to mention the fact that it’s the rare series where the second book actually lives up to the first. (It might even be better, if you ask me.) Fans of Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle series will appreciate the elegant mix of magic, history, romance, and that extra spark, that ineffable element that makes it impossible to put a book down.
Fawning, part II: Another thing I love about The Cahill Witch Chronicles is the female empowerment theme, which, though prevalent, is not at all preachy or distracting from the story. Cate Cahill is a strong-willed, independent heroine who happens to be gifted with immense power. Cate’s strength shows in her determination to protect her sisters, and she never loses sight of who she is and what matters to her—even when she falls in love. This is a pet peeve of mine in YA lit, and unfortunately it’s not uncommon to find protagonists who try to change themselves or let their judgment completely fall to the wayside just because they fall in love.
Cate Cahill is not one of those girls. In fact, (mild SPOILERS ahead) her relationship with Finn is one of the healthiest examples of teen romance I’ve read in as long as I can remember. I mean, how often in young-adult fiction do you find a relationship where the two people involved are as respectful of each other as they are infatuated? Cate and Finn don’t lie to each other; they don’t try to control each other; they’re not consumed by jealousy or robbed of reason because of their love for one another. Sure, they occasionally try to talk the other one out of doing something dangerous, but in the end, they are always equal partners who support each other. Sure, this makes for a little less romantic melodrama, but that works to the story’s advantage, as Spotswood compensates by finding drama elsewhere…like, say a compelling and well-crafted plot.
Second books in trilogies are hard. It’s easy for them to get bogged down with all the necessary place-setting for the final installment, or sometimes they can feel like insubstantial filler in between an epic beginning and end. This is why Star Cursed is an impressive and downright awe-inspiring accomplishment. Not only does it maintain the same high level of thrills (and swoons) set by Born Wicked, but it ups the ante by about double. Despite its title, Star Cursed successfully avoids the Curse of the Middle Book, offering a fresh and exciting story of love, magic, and power.