Review: The Name of the Star

The Name of the Star Maureen JohnsonThe Name of the Star (Shades of London #1)

Maureen Johnson

Published September 29, 2011
ARC Received from Penguin
Reviewed by Megan

The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it’s the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper events of more than a century ago.

Soon “Rippermania” takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was walking with her at the time, didn’t notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities. –Goodreads

When I first heard that Maureen Johnson was writing about Jack the Ripper, I was incredibly excited.  One, I love her contemporary books and was anxious to see what she’d do with a mystery, and, two, my family is somewhat morbid and serial killers are kind of a thing that we all agree are awesome (assuming I’m not sleeping alone in my house).  I’ll admit that I was a little bit disappointed to discover that it was not a historical, but that someone was terrorizing modern-day London by recreating the very same murders.  My disappointment quickly abated as I got into the story, though, and as usual, I figured out the writer had it right and I had it wrong.

Johnson seamlessly weaves the past with the present in this story so that the reader never feels inundated with history.  The writing is quick, the mystery is revealed immediately, and the tension is tight throughout.  She never holds back, giving the reader all the gory details (literally).  I read the book in less than a day and never felt like I had to force myself to keep going.  Rory is a great character and I loved going on this journey with her.  Not only did she arrive in London in time to witness the murders by the biggest serial killer in over one hundred years, she did so without her family.  She must start a new school, make new friends, kiss a cute boy, all while not being murdered by a man who, apparently, only she can see.  Quite the feat, if you ask me.

The look at how the media uses the Ripper murders says a lot about our current 24/7 news channels.  When the students don’t have access to a television, they can watch footage on the computer.  They can sit on the roof of the school and watch the action take place.  Once it has caught on that the murders are occurring exactly as they did in the actual Ripper murders, the police and media camp out where they expect the next murder to happen.  They have countdowns to the time they expect the murder to occur.  It’s not hard to imagine this happening in the real world, with t-shirts and posters and event-related snacks served at viewing parties.  It’s disturbing, but very real.

As the only witness, Rory must team up with the Shades of London, the secret ghost police, to help them solve the case. In a genre swarming with vampires and werewolves and fairies, it’s a nice palette-cleanser to come across a book that is a pure, unadulterated ghost story.   Though it takes place in modern day, this is a book that feels like a drizzly Victorian night. The mystery and suspense are at the forefront of this story, with the paranormal element working in the background.  It’s a little bit ghost busters, a little bit Nancy Drew, and a whole lotta awesome.

The only thing I can say about the ending without revealing too much is that it kind of shocked me when I’m not completely sure it should have.  It was an incredible development and I honestly can’t wait to see what Johnson does with it in the next book and what it means for Rory and the Shades in general.  I suspect that Rory will take hold of her ability and continue to grow as a character and a Shade.  If I have only one complaint about the book, it is that I would like to see more development of relationships.  While Rory makes new friends, and even a special new male friend, I felt like the connection between all of them was a little bit lacking.  But even that was not enough to keep me from loving this book and anxiously awaiting the next one, and I think it is definitely something that will be addressed as the series goes on and the characters continue to interact.  The beauty of The Name of the Star book is that I kind of didn’t care about anyone but Rory, and I don’t mean that in a negative way.  I think she is a strong character on her own and the people in her life will only help to make her stronger.

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