As a creative writer myself, and one already drafting a cycle of children’s stories, I came to this novel with a keen interest in seeing how an established author manages to appeal to both adults and younger readers alike. In StarMark, Katherine Hetzel manages this difficult tightrope walk with apparent ease. The fantasy world of Koltam is brimming with original myths and legends that appear to have their roots in Pagan and Celtic lore, but have a distinct character all their own.
The central appeal of the novel though lies in the author’s careful crafting of a simple, yet engaging tale of one girl’s journey from childhood to adulthood, and all that implies. Irvana is both brave and determined, highly likeable and appeals to all readers. She’s an excellent role-model for younger girls, particularly, in that she proves both fallible and willing to learn from her mistakes, whilst never appearing vulnerable.
Hetzel’s profound skill is in presenting Irvana and those around her with a series of perils and encounters that develop the characters, but also encourage you to devour this short tome in one or two sittings. The dialogue is snappy and well-observed, as are the passages of description, which never detract from the immediacy of the action; the cast of antagonists are even given their own space to develop a connection with the reader, and this helps younger minds consider the grey shades of morality, not just its contrasting tones. I look forward to reading more by Hetzel, and seeing her expand this specific universe still further, taking her developing fan base with her.
About the reviewer
Paul Taylor McCartney is currently Head of Secondary Teacher Education at Warwick University. He has enjoyed a long and varied teaching career in the discipline of English/Theatre Studies and is following a part-time PhD in Creative Writing with Leicester University, His research interests include dystopian studies, narratology and 20th century literary criticism.