Maureen Johnson’s ‘The Name Of The Star’

The Name of the Star (Shades of London, #1)The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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 in the autumn of 1888. 

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 now believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was 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.

Aside from some slightly jarring scenes at the beginning involving the school (for one thing the school seems massively out-of-place and oddly run from the perspective of a Londoner who went to a similarly posh London school) this was a fantastic book that I ripped (sorry) through in ONE EVENING. It is great stuff. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good supernatural-tinged romp – though the central character feels oddly vague and insubstantial at times she is a marvellous vehicle for the reader and really comes into her own by the rather tense climax. I respected her and enjoyed her company by the end, and there’s no higher praise than that for a first person narrative.

I won’t rehash the plot, but suffice to say it isn’t a simple Jack the Ripper retelling, nor is it trying to give us a new view of the historical murders – it’s an original plot and concept using very popular tropes (the Ripper murders, the “otherness” of London, young adult genre, secret groups operating with the government) that still feels fresh, even to the point of freaking me out about the murders even after reading much more gory and bloody (and excellent) books like Alan Moore‘s From Hell and Kim Newman‘s Anno Dracula. A true testament to how, sometimes, less can be more. (Also I read this at night, when all of this is 200% freakier than during daylight hours, I know this through SCIENCE.)

I’d recommend this book to people who enjoy London in fiction, tense YA crime/thrillers, who enjoy Torchwood-like groups waging secret wars against the nasty unknown, or who simply want a solid, swift read that though it begins slowly and a bit oddly warms up tremendously once the (gory and unsettling (I feel a lack of sleep looming tonight)) murders begin. I’ve seen a few comments complaining about the ending, but I thought it was very well done and wrapped up a crackling, entertaining and at times spine-tingling read with a tantalizing suggestion of what Johnson has in her clearly devious and brilliant mind.

Can’t wait to read more.

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