Let’s take a moment and appreciate this outstanding cover. I’m told that early editions of the book featured painted page edges; I would perform unnatural acts to acquire one. Just gorgeous.
This is one of those books that was really hard to boil down to just a star rating– because I loved it, but it’s definitely got some flaws. Star Daughter is Shveta Thakrar’s first book, and it’s the story of Sheetal, a sixteen-year-old girl who is half human and half star.
It may be that you blinked at that sentence. Roll with it. Her father is human, her mother is a star, and she is their biological child. Stars in this book are both the actual real flaming balls of gas and thermonuclear physics that they are in the real world and immortal– or functionally so, at least– personified beings. And as Sheetal gets closer to her 17th birthday, her star side begins to overtake her human side, and she accidentally injures her father during an argument. She discovers that star blood (yes, they bleed) is a healing agent, so she and one of her friends pop off to what may as well be Heaven to convince her long-absent mother to give them some blood so that she can heal her father’s wounds.
And then things get complicated.
Star Daughter‘s greatest strength is Shveta Thakrar’s skill as a sentence-by-sentence wordsmith. This book is beautifully written, and engaging enough that I was up way too late last night reading it and basically woke up this morning, grabbed a large mug of coffee, and sat down and finished it. For the first half of the book, I was comparing Thakrar’s writing to Salman Rushdie’s. That good. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end as well as it begins, and ultimately it’s one of those books that I wasn’t able to like as much as I wanted to but if I had a way to buy Thakrar’s second book right now I would be handing money over just out of the pure potential I see here.
Also fascinating is the worldbuilding– Sheetal, and every other human character in the book, is a Desi Hindu, and if you don’t know what I mean when I say that, hold it in the back of your brain for a moment. This book is absolutely steeped in Hindu cosmology– Shiva himself makes a brief appearance– and Thakrar has no interest whatsoever in moderating her language or the way her characters talk to make things easier for a non-Hindu audience. If you don’t know what a “Desi” is, for example, there’s a real good chance that you’re going to have a hard time. I know very little about Hinduism, but I’m reasonably certain my “very little” still counts as above average for an American reader, and there were definitely places where either context failed me or I wanted more detail and I had to look words up.
(There’s an interesting conversation to be had here– not by me, I don’t know enough to have it, but I want to be nearby to listen to it– about whether this genuinely counts as a work of fantasy or is religious fiction. To an American, non-Hindu audience, it’s going to be shelved correctly, but I’d love to know how much of the worldbuilding is made up out of whole cloth and how much of it is based in preexisting Hindu stories.)
Where the book falls down, unfortunately, is the story itself. Sheetal really doesn’t know what’s going on around her for most of the story, and it’s clear from the moment she arrives in the celestial realm that she’s a pawn in the plans of a bunch of other people who don’t necessarily have her goals in mind and who have preexisting and very old gripes with one another– but the pawn isn’t always really the person you want to read about. The big climax and the ending are too abrupt and, truth be told, a bit silly. There is a very YA-inflected romance with a boy that starts off sweet and fun and then somehow he ends up in Heaven too, but not on the same side as her, and come on. Sheetal herself is a bit more of a cipher than she ought to be as well– in a lot of ways I was more interested in her friend Minai, who, no shit, casually hooks up with one of the stars during the trip, than I was about the main character, and that’s a problem.
But: I couldn’t put it down. And that, to me, is the most important thing. If I can’t put your book down, it gets five stars and a review, even if it’s got some mess here and there. Calibrate your expectations accordingly, but definitely give this one a look.