This is an extremely auspicious debut and a welcome addition to the fantasy romance genre. The Starry Child had some weaknesses, probably due to the author's inexperience, but overall it was a charming and interesting story. I could tell it was the author's first published novel, but I'm sure it won't be her last.
Rainey Nielson is struggling unsuccessfully to keep her life under control. Her beloved husband Alan
died three years ago in a plane crash, and since then her eight-year old daughter Sasha has been mute.
The girl has transferred from one special school to another due to her bizarre behavior. Every time there is
a thunderstorm she climbs to a the highest available spot – on top of a tree, a filing cabinet – and refuses to
come down. Now Sasha has just been expelled by her latest school, and a mad researcher is stalking her
for his bizarre drug experiments. Rainey's job is hanging by a thread, and the child welfare authorities
are investigating her fitness as a parent. Having exhausted all the rational medical and psychological
treatments for Sasha's silence, Rainey is ready to give up.
But help comes from an unlikely source. Before her father's death, Sasha had her own imaginary
language. When Rainey's elderly Scottish neighbor sees a videotape of Sasha's fifth birthday party, she
tells Rainey that the girl is speaking an ancient form of Gaelic. She sends Rainey to seek the help of Matt
MacInnes, a brilliant linguistics professor at Stanford. Although Rainey is initially mistrustful of another
academic, she realizes that he is the only person who has the key to Sasha's silence and unusual behavior.
It is all tied into an ancient Scottish fairy tale, and can only be resolved if Rainey and Sasha travel to the
Scottish highlands to find the final answers.
The Starry Child earns a 4-heart rating because of its interesting plot and spirited yet tender romance between Rainey and Matt. Rainey's initial mistrust of Matt and cynicism about the paranormal are gradually overcome by Matt's persistence and dedication to Sasha. But Rainey has her own gifts for Matt, whose tragic loss years ago made him a self-exile from his Scottish home.
The novel does have a few glaring weaknesses. The mystery behind Sasha's silence is revealed by Matt as
he tells Rainey about the fairy tale. It would have been more rewarding if the two had uncovered the truth
together. The threat from the mad scientist who is plaguing Rainey at the start of the book is never
alluded to after the trip to Scotland and seems a pointless addition to a full plot. And a confrontational
scene with some incredibly one-dimensional villains is so gruesome it is almost comical.
I also have one major quibble that I admit is personal. In reality (and who's expecting reality from a book
that includes talking fairies?) child welfare workers would never take Sasha away from Rainey just
because the girl is behaving in a bizarre fashion. Unfortunately, the opposite is true – even in cases of
obvious physical abuse, it is often difficult to take a child away from the parent. Knowing this made it
hard to take the child welfare threat in the story very seriously.
But the novel's strengths compensate for these beginner's flaws. Apparently a sequel to The Starry
Child is already in the works, and I'll be eager to read it. I look forward to hearing more from this
talented author who will no doubt produce even more rewarding books as she refines her craft.
Meet this author! Check out our New Faces interview with Lynn Hanna.