Sixteen-year-old Helen Hamilton has spent her entire life on the tiny island of Nantucket. Raised by her caring father after her mother split, Helen has tried in vain to be a normal girl, but her differences are becoming more pronounced. When the mysterious Delos family moves to the island, Helen realizes that she’s extremely different from her friends. When she crosses paths with the boys in the Delos family, she sees women weeping blood and crying for vengeance. As Helen starts to put the pieces together regarding her ancestry, she realizes that big things are in store for her, and some of those things might be pretty lethal.
Not too long ago, I talked about how much I love Greek mythology and how much I struggled with Aimee Carter’s The Goddess Test. The issues I had with that book were pretty complicated, but they pale in comparison to the relationship I have with Josephine Angelini’s Starcrossed. Starcrossed, the first in a planned trilogy, is a total disasterpiece.
Readers who have already sought out reviews know that comparisons to Twilight abound. It is undeniable that the story and the characters bear a striking resemblance to the characters and story found in Stephanie Meyer’s fantastically popular series. Following the Meyer formula is guaranteed to be successful, at least with regard to some readers.
And there are a lot of readers out there who are gushing about this book. There are a lot of five-star reviews on Goodreads, and there are a lot of book bloggers who hail this as the most exciting paranormal series to arrive on the book scene in a long time. Originally pitched as “Percy Jackson for girls,” (a phrase that does actually rankle me), Angelini’s debut novel has been a high-publicity title since it sold for seven figures.
Being sold for an impressive amount of money can’t save the novel from being a total mess, though. Clumsy prose, an inconsistent narrative, weak characters, and contradictory mythology take Angelini’s promising premise and turn the book into something that is really, really disappointing. Described as Romeo and Juliet meets The Iliad by the author herself, the novel falls short of both in every way possible.
Angelini’s novel comes in at a whopping 500 pages. Unfortunately, these pages are cluttered with some of the most awkward prose I’ve come across in recent memory. In addition to her clumsy attempts to create pretty, flowery prose, Angelini’s syntax is overly complicated, rendering her action descriptions repetitive, killing the momentum and confusing the reader. Too often, Angelini relies on telling the reader instead of showing; this is never more apparent than when the third person limited narration jumps suddenly to characters other than Helen. The first time this happened, I was so surprised that I had to stop and reread the previous section.
Of course, the technical aspects of Angelini’s prose won’t bother all readers. In truth, it might not have bothered me as much as it did had the characters and the story been compelling enough. Unfortunately (again), this is not the case. In addition to creating bland characters who act more out of compulsion than actual desire, Angelini’s rendering of Greek mythology is both convoluted and contradictory. These demi-gods, descended from the actual Greek gods, are called Scions. Instead of looking like their biological parents, they recycle the faces from their ancestors (with one exception, who is a doppelganger for her mother). The ultimate goal of the Scions is almost pedestrian (raising Atlantis and becoming immortal), and much of the rest of the mythology borders on being a total cheese-fest. Also, Angelini gets important facts wrong: according to these demi-gods, The Iliad got everything right about the Trojan War except for the part about the Trojan Horse, which is weird, because that doesn’t happen in The Iliad. Really?
As I mentioned before, Angelini has gone on at length about how the idea for the story came to her when she saw Romeo and Juliet and The Iliad sitting next to one another on her bookshelf. It’s clear that she has attempted to create star-crossed lovers like the ones in Shakespeare’s play, but it doesn’t work here. Angelini spends an inordinate amount of time setting up the fact that Helen and Lucas can never be together, and in the process forgets to sell the reader on the actual romance that should occur despite their differences. This “retelling” of the story feels hollow, unable to bring any of the complexities present in the source materials. Readers are better off seeking out Angelini’s inspirations and reading those instead.
Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini. Harper Teen: 2011. Electronic galley received for review via NetGalley.