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Book Review: The Fellowship of The Ring (Reread)

Book Review: Starling House by Alix Harrow

I want to laugh at him. I want to explain about people like me, about the two lists we have to make and the one list we get to keep, the everything we give up for the one thing we can’t. 

Starling house
I’ve been looking forward to reading Starling House by Alix E. Harrow for months. I’ve loved her other books, The Once and Future Witches and, especially, The 10,000 Doors of January, and had fun with her two novellas, A Spindle Splintered and A Mirror Mended (which I read in 2022 but forgot to put on my yearly list) (“had fun” meaning…yes, fun, but not as memorable as the novels.)

I expected a lot out of Starling House is what I’m saying.

It tells the story of Opal and her brother Jasper, who live in a room in a rundown hotel in a small Kentucky  coal mining town called Eden. Opal’s mother is dead, killed in a car accident involving something malicious and mysterious that caused her to drive her car into the river. Opal, who barely escaped drowning that day too, is taking care of her brother while working at the local hardware store, but as a high-school dropout in her twenties who’s always been despised by the town, this isn’t going well. 

She’s always had dreams about the Starling House, a huge old house set behind a gate near a wood on the edge of town. It was originally owned by Eleanor Starling, who wrote a book called The Underland, about a different world full of monsters. 

One day, walking home from work, Opal is compelled to stop at the gate of Starling House. When she pulls at the gate, it cuts her hand and starts up her old dreams. Eventually this leads her into Starling House and the life of Arthur Starling, the only resident.

This book reminded me of many others. The Secret Garden a bit, in that the house itself is a character, but a much more powerful and cognizant one. (This isn’t the first book with a house I’ve grown to love like a person, but it definitely has the best house. Or at least the one I am most fond of.) A bit of Beauty and the Beast, as Arthur is a bit beastly and lives in a house with an amazing library. The Hazel Wood and Middlegame because of how a book influences the story. Even a touch of Cloud Cuckoo Land or maybe When Women Were Dragons because of a fantastic librarian character. 

I was bothered by one thing in this book. Opal is a person who dropped out of high school. She loves the library. And her figuring out what is really going on at Starling House involves a fairly obtuse bit of mythology—a sixth river?—which I’d bet even the most bookish person would not put together. I needed her investment in learning, books, mythology, libraries to be MUCH more a part of her character than it was for the ah-ha leaps to make sense.

That said, I really did love this book. Not quite as much as her other books, but so much of it resonated with me. It explores how we try to bury our darkness and our damage and how, no matter what, it still comes out. And I loved Opal. Even though our darkness/damage is entirely different, I connected with Opal so hard. 

It was a perfect book for my last read of the year.


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