Book Review: A Dark and Hollow Star by Ashley Shuttleworth (eARC)

A Dark and Hollow Star by Ashley Shuttleworth   

Genre: Young Adult, Urban Fantasy

Publishing Info: eARC from Hodder & Stoughton

Pages: 512

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

The Cruel Prince meets City of Bones in this thrilling urban fantasy set in the magical underworld of Toronto that follows a queer cast of characters racing to stop a serial killer whose crimes could expose the hidden world of faeries to humans.

Choose your player.

The “ironborn” half-fae outcast of her royal fae family.

A tempestuous Fury, exiled to earth from the Immortal Realm and hellbent on revenge.

A dutiful fae prince, determined to earn his place on the throne.

The prince’s brooding guardian, burdened with a terrible secret.

For centuries, the Eight Courts of Folk have lived among us, concealed by magic and bound by law to do no harm to humans. This arrangement has long kept peace in the Courts—until a series of gruesome and ritualistic murders rocks the city of Toronto and threatens to expose faeries to the human world.

Four queer teens, each who hold a key piece of the truth behind these murders, must form a tenuous alliance in their effort to track down the mysterious killer behind these crimes. If they fail, they risk the destruction of the faerie and human worlds alike. If that’s not bad enough, there’s a war brewing between the Mortal and Immortal Realms, and one of these teens is destined to tip the scales. The only question is: which way?

Wish them luck. They’re going to need it.

Thank you so much to Hodder & Stoughton and NetGalley for the eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

A Dark and Hollow Star is a fun urban fantasy novel with stunning world building and brilliant characters. I had high expectations for this book since the blurb sounded amazing. Although I found it slow to start, by the end I realised I really loved it.

The world building in A Dark and Hollow Star is very well done. The level of detail is incredible. It’s clear the author spent a considerable amount of time working on the world building and it pays off. I felt completely immersed in a world which is familiar yet unfamiliar – our world but with faeries roaming the streets. The different types of faerie, the Courts, and immortals, the way it’s all hidden alongside our world, was depicted so vividly. I loved the mix of fantasy and modern-day technology and pop culture references.

However, as much as I loved learning about the world, it felt very overwhelming. There is so much information crammed into the first few chapters that my brain felt like it was going to explode from trying to absorb everything. The focus on world building also meant I felt more distanced from the characters at the start, who were well-written, but felt side-lined by the world building at times in the first half. It also meant the book had a slow pace in the early parts.  

The way the world building interrupted conversations for several paragraphs made it feel disjointed and I found it hard to get into many of the early scenes as they didn’t flow. The world building is so very good, but needed to be better woven into the narrative. However, I enjoyed the second half a lot more. It wasn’t as bogged down by long descriptions and explanations, and I was able to really get into the story and enjoy the ride.

A Dark and Hollow Star is written in third person with the perspectives of four queer characters: Arlo, Nausicaä, Aurelian and Vehan. I have to say, Aurelian and Vehan seemed to fade into the background as the book went on, with Arlo really feeling like the main character for most of the book, rather than the story being split between them more equally. I haven’t counted, but it seemed like there were a lot more chapters from Arlo’s POV than the others.

Nausicaä is my favourite character from this book, probably one of my favourite characters ever. She’s sarcastic, chaotic and sassy in the best way, and every scene she was in was made ten times better by her presence. Every time she dramatically entered a scene I mentally cheered because I knew it was going to be a good one if she was in it. She made reading this book so much fun. I also adored the chemistry between Nausicaä and Arlo and how it built up slowly over the course of the book.

As each of the characters investigates the murders, they eventually end up crossing paths and, as expected, team up. Their investigation leads them to a finale that was thrilling, but also still kept some of the humour that had been present throughout the book. Sections from the viewpoint of Hero sprinkled in were intriguing, but it did mean that there weren’t many surprises left for the finale, as the reader was already privy to a lot of what had been going on.

After all of that, the book ended a bit too abruptly. After the fantastic final showdown, we get one chapter from Arlo’s perspective and an intriguing epilogue. But there’s nothing to wrap up Aurelian and Vehan’s side of the story. Their friendship is pretty rocky, and since there is a sequel, is not resolved by the end of this book, but I would have liked to have seen a chapter with them after the finale. It felt like something major was missing. We’ve followed four characters through the book, but two of them are completely missing from the ending.

A Dark and Hollow Star is a brilliant debut that is both dark and full of humour, with characters you will fall in love with and an incredibly immersive world. Although I struggled to get into it at the start, once the story really got going, I was totally invested in the characters and the outcome of their investigation. This is going to be a must-read for 2021.

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