Book Review

BOOK REVIEW: Starfell: Willow Moss and the Lost Day by Dominique Valente

– Short Review –

We’ve all lost things. A pencil, maybe. Or a sock. But have you ever lost an entire day of the week? That’s what happens in the magical world of Starfell, when last Tuesday suddenly disappears from memory. Willow Moss, a shy young witch whose not-very-exciting magical power (compared to those of her much more powerful older sisters) is that she can find lost things, suddenly finds herself on a whirlwind adventure that takes her across Starfell in search of the missing day.

Dominique Valente has created a fantastic new world in Starfell and, in Willow Moss and the Missing Tuesday, a hugely funny, rip-roaring page-turner with more twists than you can shake a magic broomstick at.

If you liked Tin by Padraig Kenny, or Who Let the Gods Out by Maz Evans, you’ll be enchanted by the world of Starfell. You’ll willingly lose a day — if not several — with your nose in this book.

– Longer Review –

In the magical world of Starfell, Willow Moss is the youngest of a family of witches who unfortunately didn’t really get a fair shake of the dice when it came to inheriting magical skills. While most of her family are blessed with impressive powers, she is somewhat less so. Her mother, Raine, is a supposed ‘seer’ who can hear dead people speak, while her eldest sister, Juniper, can blow things up, and her middle sister, Camille, can move things with her mind. Willow’s skill is the somewhat less alluring; she can find lost things, such as keys, or socks, or missing false teeth. Useful, to be sure, but not very exciting — at least as far as Willow is concerned. A shy young witch, she spends most of her time looking after the eccentric Granny Flossy, who has green hair and a habit of accidentally blowing the roof off the house with the potions she brews. It’s a not-very-quiet, but nonetheless somewhat uneventful life.

This all changes when Willow is visited by the mysterious Moreg Vaine, the most feared witch in all of Starfell, who, to Willow’s astonishment, asks the young witch for help. Because, it turns out, last Tuesday has disappeared – that’s right, the actual day – and Moreg needs to figure out what happened to it. Could Moreg have lost her mind? Willow certainly thinks so, until she tries to think about what she did last Tuesday and realises that her memory of that day is a complete blank. She can’t remember anything about it and neither, it turns out, can anyone else.

And this just happens to be very serious indeed. The problem, Moreg explains, is that whatever happened to last Tuesday could unravel the magical fabric of Starfell itself. The shy, not-very-talented Willow finds herself faced with a rather important task, to put it mildly.

So begins a thrilling adventure for the young witch in which she travels with Moreg to find an oublier (pronounced oo-blee-hair), that is, a forgotten teller, someone who can read people’s memories of the past. Taking along her monster-under-the-bed, Oswin, a rather cranky creature called a kobold (or is he actually half cat? Don’t mention that to him!) who spends most of his time inside Granny Flossy’s carpet bag. Kobolds are excellent at telling when someone is lying, not to mention resisting most forms of magic. So he turns out to be a useful and loyal companion to Willow on her travels.

Things take an unfortunate turn when the apparently invincible Moreg is, to Willow’s horror, imprisoned by the Brothers of Wol – a sect of robe-wearing, authoritarian fellows who are, unfortunately, very much against all kinds of magic, and witches in particular. Willow and Oswin must go it alone, but not before Moreg entrusts her with her StoryPass, a compass-like device that guides her in moments of uncertainty with chucklesome statements like ‘If I Were You, I’d Run’.

Willow rises to the challenge and gets on her magic broom Whisper, encountering a number of colourful characters along her way. Indeed, she makes some excellent friends, including the absent-minded oublier Nolin Sometimes, who has the distracting habit of going into a trance when he reads someone’s memories; the dragon Feathering, whose egg happened to hatch last Tuesday – and who has been left distraught with an empty egg, his baby dragon missing; Essential Jones, a bespectacled young witch who can freeze things; and Calamity Troll, whose fierce reputation is tempered by a secret she harbours.

Willow, of course, ultimately triumphs over the stealer of the lost day (for it has been stolen), restoring that which had been forgotten and revealing, poignantly, her own painful truth about that lost Tuesday.

In Starfell, Dominique Valente has created a rich world with its own distinct rules of magic, populated by unforgettable, often extremely funny characters who occupy wonderfully original settings (Nolin Sometimes’s stilt house of botanical peculiarities is a particular delight, as is his moon garden). And in Willow, she has created a heroine who is sympathetic, brave and resourceful. The pace is non-stop; indeed there are so many twists and turns that it is sometimes hard to follow, and you find yourself turning back a few pages to remind yourself what happened with such-and-such, or who so-and-so was again. But this is a small complaint.

For lovers of fantasy, magic and adventure, or just for those who enjoy a great story with an ensemble of fun characters, there is plenty in this impressive debut to engage.

Starfell: Willow Moss and the Lost Day is published by HarperCollins Children’s and is available here.

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Dominique Valente

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Lover of grumpy monsters, quirky dragons, magic and mad things, gardens that whisper and houses that breathe. The coffee helps. The anxiety doesn’t. Has one arm. Fairly certain has some Benjamin Button type disease where you get younger as you grow older. Would love a hut on a cliff with a sea garden, and a pet whale. Will settle for a cup of coffee and cake and something good to read.

Reviewed by Michael Stevens

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