... an exquisitely gripping novel with a bloody, unflinching heart. And yet, for all the intricate brutalities of its worldbuilding, it holds out the hope of revolutionary change ... subversive ... The queerness of Star Eater rests as much in its unsqueamish examination of power relations and the meaty, bloody metaphor of its magical mechanics as in its normalising treatment of queer relationships and the sexualities of its major characters: it’s a novel with teeth, and it sets those teeth into a thematic argument about—an indictment of—the hereditary transmission and constant maintenance of power that comes from acts of, essentially, theft and consumption. One might say rapine. For all that, though, Star Eater is wildly hopeful about the potential of supportive, subversive communities, about the strength of complicated friendships, about kindness and the possibility of transformative change ... a fantastic book.
Engrossing, horrifying, and vivid, Kerstin Hall’s debut novel Star Eater is a hard one to talk about. This is in part simply because there’s so much there there—so much inventive worldbuilding, so much carefully structured power, so many things I want to exclaim over. As with many complicated things, it’s occasionally boiled down to something both accurate and not ... Star Eater expects you to pay attention from the very first scene, when we meet Acolyte Elfreda Raughn in the midst of what ought to be a typical day ... There are no infodumps here, but there is a lot of backstory, carefully woven into the plot and revealed gradually as Elfreda is swept up into a complicated conspiracy that reaches to the very center of her world.
The novel’s premise is intriguing, no doubt about it. But what surprised and delighted me most was Hall’s wonderful writing, the rich detail of the world she’s built. Her main characters, especially El, Millie and Finn, are vivid, passionate, flawed yet righteous individuals. The Reverends --- the villainous Sisters, as well as the kind, bossy ones --- are almost as compelling. Hall’s descriptive powers stunned me: lush, sensuous, mood-establishing passages that put us right smack in the middle of Elfreda’s brain, or a physical place.