Sunday, February 15, 2009

Review – Starfinder by John Marco

Young Moth had grown up in Calio, the mountain city—the highest city ever built in his world—and he considered himself lucky to live in this very special place. For Calio was not like other cities. In other cities a man could be a baker, or a physician, or engage in any number of common trades. But in Calio a man could be something truly different—he could be a Skyknight, one of the elite pilots who flew the fragile, beautiful, newfangled flying machines called dragonflies. Any man who dreamed of flying belonged in only one place, Calio, the city on the edge of the world. And young Moth, who had worked at the aerodrome since he was ten, wanted to fly more than anything.

To the north of Calio stretched the Reach, looking like a sea of fog that never ended. Flat and peaceful, the mists of the Reach flowed all the way to the horizon, and Calio loomed over this vast forbidding expanse like a sentinel standing guard.

There were numerous tall tales about the lands beyond the Reach, and Moth often heard the wildest of them now that he was living with Leroux. Life had certainly not been dull since this eccentric old man had taken him in after Moth's mother died. Leroux had once been one of the legendary Eldrin Knights, and was obsessed with the history of his long-dead order. He also had a pet kestrel, Lady Esme, who had lived far longer than any bird could naturally live, and who behaved in strange, un-birdlike ways. When Moth was ten, and first taken in by Leroux, he had been especially fascinated by Leroux's stories of the Skylords, but at the grown-up age of thirteen, Moth was becoming increasingly skeptical about the existence of these mysterious, powerful, and frightening beings from beyond the Reach. As a matter of fact, Moth was beginning to worry about Leroux, whose health was deteriorating, and whose stories had become increasingly far-fetched, fanciful, and impossible to believe.

But Moth's life was about to change in ways he could not even imagine, and soon the land of the Skylords would become more real and more threatening than the most outlandish tales Leroux could have spun. For Lady Esme, the kestrel who was not really a kestrel, would provide Moth with a key to another world—the world beyond the Reach....
Starfinder is the first book of the Skylords fantasy trilogy, a series aimed at the Young Adult audience. I have remarked in the past that there is a lot of great fantasy writing happening in the YA category of genre fiction and Starfinder is no exception. A clear indicator of this for me is how quickly I am drawn into the story and the degree to which the prose style is transparent (much like the YA novels of Andre Norton). Many fantasy stories burden you with excessive terminology and world building attributes that require a degree of focus that can take you away from the story. Not so here.

Right from the opening line –
Moth was flying his kite near the aerodrome when he heard the dragonfly crash.
Starfinder piques your sense of adventure. We are introduced to young Moth, the idealistic orphan who dreams of becoming a Skyknight and Fiona, the cynical and solitary granddaughter of Rendor, the Governor of Calio. In many ways Fiona and Moth are polar opposites, in both temperament and societal status, but they are bound by strong friendship and loyalty.

What we learn of the people, politics and culture of the land of Pandera and city of Calio paints a picture that resonates with the always captivating Victorian and Vernian (steampunk) style worlds. A world of emerging science and empire building with recent advances that have taken mankind into the sky with dragonfly craft and airships.

The death of Moth’s foster father sets off a series of events that embarks Moth and Fiona on a fantastical journey into the mists of the Reach in search of the sorcerer that can restore Lady Esme to her true form. Moth carries with him a powerful magical object called the Starfinder sought after by the legendary Skylords and by Fiona’s grandfather.

Entering the mists of the Reach is reminiscent of the Pevensie children entering the wardrobe and being transported to Narnia. The world they encounter as they leave the mists is one of magical mystery and wonder, the first creature they encounter is a mermaid. They quickly learn the sorcerer they seek, named Merceron is none other than a dragon, one who eventually becomes a fast companion and protector.

But this new land is also one of peril. The forces of the Skylords are on the hunt for the Starfinder carried by the duo. Particularly dark and horrific are the Redeemers, flying gargoyle-like creatures transformed from humans, who are slaves to the Skylords, acting as their hunters and warriors. Fiona and Moth are also pursued into the Reach by Rendor, commanding the giant dirigible Avatar like Captain Nemo at the helm of the Nautilus. Outfitted as warship, the Avatar is prepared to recover Rendor's granddaughter, the Starfinder and defend against the Skylords. Science against magic.

Characterization is given careful consideration in Starfinder. As might be expected with young protagonists (Moth is 13, Fiona 14) there is a strong coming of age element to the story, and the pair mature and evolve through their experiences, their choices and consequences, victories and losses. Secondary characters also transform and change in unexpected ways; while some are black and white portrayals many provide interesting shades of grey. There is a very satisfying depth and connection to the casting in Starfinder.

Starfinder is chockfull of adventure with fantasy elements both familiar and new and supporting themes of honour and redemption. There is something here for everyone who loves fantasy. Of course you will have to pick up and read Starfinder to discover what exactly the Starfinder object is and why it is coveted, who the Skylords are and to learn the ultimate fate of Moth, Fiona, Merceron and the crew of the Avatar. Starfinder is a fanciful and welcome young adult fantasy suitable for readers of all ages. I look forward to the next volumes in the trilogy. Recommended.


Penguin Group (USA) DAW
Published: May 05, 2009
ISBN #: 9780756405519
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 326

SFF World

For a PDF excerpt of the first chapter of Starfinder you can contact John Marco at his website.

The Skylords Trilogy:

  1. Starfinder (May 2009)
  2. Untitled (TBD)
  3. Untitled (TBD)


Lukien Trilogy:

  1. The Eyes of God (2001)
  2. The Devil's Armor (2003)
  3. The Sword of Angels (2005)

The Tyrants and Kings Trilogy:

  1. The Jackal of Nar (1999)
  2. The Grand Design (2000)
  3. The Saints of the Sword (2001)


  1. I have this book sitting on my desk. I was waiting to review it closer to its release date in May, but now you have my curiosity piqued. I may have to pick it up sooner.

  2. Jaxon I am sure you will enjoy it whenever you get to it. Look forward to your review.

  3. I know I have heard of this before. I tend to be very picky about books like this but this series sounds very neat!

  4. Doug, thanks for the review. I'm glad you liked the book and I appreciate all the good things you said about it. It was cool seeing you repost Tom Kidd's drawing of the dragonfly. He did a great job on the artwork. Also, anyone who wants a pdf of the first chapter can request one by contacting me through my

  5. Ladytink I hope you give it a try.

    John, thanks so much for dropping by, it was a pleasure to read Starfinder. It is a pity they rarely produce books with interior illustrations anymore as Tom Kidd;s work would lend itself very well to that effect.


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