Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

December 5, 2012

Review – And All the Stars by Andrea K. Höst

I think that due to website load issues, or possibly other reasons, the Australian Women Writers Challenge is formally over for 2012. They are currently running a mini-survey to measure its impact, so if you think it might have had one then I encourage you to go and check it out. I’ve already signed up for more of the same in 2013, both because I think it goes some way towards redressing imbalances in acknowledgment and celebration of Australian writers in public discussions and – much more importantly from a personal point of view – because by participating in the Challenge this year, I’ve discovered many Australian writers (men too) about whom I was previously wholly ignorant. In terms of expanding my awareness of the Australian speculative fiction scene, the AWWC has been an unparalleled success. But whether or not the Challenge is still going officially or not, I’m not done with it and intend to keep reading and reviewing right up until New Year’s Eve. All of which is a long-winded introduction to my review of And All the Stars.

And All the Stars by Andrea K. Höst [1] is a YA apocalypse-in-progress adventure set in modern-day Sydney. As the story opens, teenager Madeleine Cost’s plans to ditch school to conduct a portrait-sitting with her newly-famous cousin come to grief when a vast alien spike suddenly punches up from the earth. In the chaos that ensues in the shadow of the towering black spire, just one of many that have appeared around the world, Madeleine struggles to stay alive in a quarantine zone, gathers around herself a growing army of survivor and discovers unexpected side-effects of the disaster.

Post-apocalyptica seems to be a big thing in YA writing at the moment, but I think there’s an untapped vein of possibilities in telling stories about the collapse of civilisation as it happens. AAtS maintains a constant, narrow focus on Madeleine and her friends as they establish themselves, build relationships and make survival plans. The strange worldwide catastrophe looms as a mysterious background presence, which makes it all the more threatening when it intrudes on the survivors. Like any good YA adventure, the key here is the relationships: the growing friendships, the petty arguments, the buildup of trust – and coping in the aftermath of tragedy and betrayal. For all of its strong emotions, AAtS never steps over the line into angsty melodrama, which I for one appreciated.

And All the Stars is a not-quite-cosy catastrophe. The characters’ circumstances are dangerous and constrained, their fear of capture or worse is oppressive and justified, and their losses are keenly felt – but at the same time they have pretty good wifi and access to food and shelter. It makes for an odd – but not unbelievable – atmosphere, combining the tension and paranoia of survival in enemy occupied territory with a curiously larkish teenage high-spiritedness. Think ‘The Famous Five Go to Stalingrad’!

Probably the most impressive thing about AAtS is that it’s told and done in a single volume; the author has commendably resisted the urge to bloat the story out to a trilogy. The downside is that the resolution of the plot feels a bit rushed –  towards the end, the acceleration to the climax after a slow expository scene feels almost hasty. In terms of the characters and their relationships, though, the end comes at just the right time. That said, I would happily inhale a sequel with these characters.

 

[1] Hey look, I finally figured out how to do a frackin’ umlaut. It turns out there’s a whole extra hidden toolbar in the WordPress editing menu, including the ‘Insert custom character’ tool. At last, I can spell Andrea’s surname properly without looking like a massive nitwit.

 

4 Comments »

  1. I just read 4 books by an female Australian author. The only reason I know she’s Australian is I Googled to find out whether there were books published after #1 in the series, which I originally read shortly after it came out. KE Mills, Rogue agent series – fyi number three in the series is much darker than all the rest.

    Comment by Jenny — December 5, 2012 @ 10:36 pm

  2. I take it by the fact that you read all four that they are reasonably good?

    Comment by lexifab — December 6, 2012 @ 11:06 pm

  3. Yup. I’d recommend them. Long delayed reply as I’ve had my head down getting work done

    Comment by Jenny — December 9, 2012 @ 10:50 pm

  4. […] I have previously reviewed her novels And All the Stars,  Stained Glass Monsters and The Silence of […]

    Pingback by AWWC 2013 Review – Hunting by Andrea K. Höst « Lexifabricographer — May 21, 2013 @ 3:51 pm

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