Nine of Starsby Laura Bickle
Published byHarper Voyager on December 27, 2016
Following on the heels of her critically acclaimed prequel novels Dark Alchemy and Mercury Retrograde comes the first installment in Laura Bickle’s dark contemporary fantasy series, Nine of Stars, a Wildlands Novel
Winter has always been a deadly season in Temperance, but this time, there’s more to fear than just the cold…
As the daughter of an alchemist, Petra Dee has faced all manner of occult horrors—especially since her arrival in the small town of Temperance, Wyoming. But she can’t explain the creature now stalking the backcountry of Yellowstone, butchering wolves and leaving only their skins behind in the snow. Rumors surface of the return of Skinflint Jack, a nineteenth-century wraith that kills in fulfillment of an ancient bargain.
The new sheriff in town, Owen Rutherford, isn’t helping matters. He’s a dangerously haunted man on the trail of both an unsolved case and a fresh kill—a bizarre murder leading him right to Petra’s partner Gabriel. And while Gabe once had little to fear from the mortal world, he’s all too human now. This time, when violence hits close to home, there are no magical solutions.
It’s up to Petra and her coyote sidekick Sig to get ahead of both Owen and the unnatural being hunting them all—before the trail turns deathly cold.
*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.*
NINE OF STARS is the third book in the Dark Alchemy series by Laura Bickle.
It is also the first book in the Wildlands series. My understanding is that the previous books in the Dark Alchemy series are supposed to be considered prequels and NINE OF STARS starts a new series. However, I strongly suggest people start reading the series at the beginning to understand what has happened up to this point.
NINE OF STARS is written in third person with alternating points of view, past tense.
I loved NINE OF STARS! It was original, beautifully written, and fast-paced. Warning: it ends on a cliffhanger.
Brief Summary of the Plot
Geologist Petra Dee, daughter of an alchemist and lover to a previously immortal Hanged Man, discovers a wolf pelt that has been displayed in what seems like some sort of ritual. She learns about the legend of Skinflint Jack, a ghost bent on getting revenge against wolves for killing his family. Petra decides to go after Skinflint Jack because he hurt her friend who works at the ranger station. Meanwhile, the sheriff is trying to catch up to Gabriel and Petra, because he has inherited the farm and discovered the tunnels below the burnt tree, including the bodies of the Hanged Men and the former owner, Sal Rutherford.
My Thoughts about…
Both Petra and Gabe are likable. Petra is smart and brave, not only in confrontation but in dealing with her failing health. She’s not a lovey-dovey type of girl, which makes her relationship with Gabe atypical as far as books go. They don’t show as much affection as I am used to reading. But, that’s okay–I appreciate that the book doesn’t get bogged down by their romance. Sex is implied but it isn’t described play by play.
I thought Laura Bickle did a great job with showing the reader how Gabe struggles with no longer being a Hanged Man. The scene that said it all without having to explain it was when he was trying to convince the ravens to come to him. He longed to fly again, but finally had to accept that part of his life was gone. It seemed to me that losing his immortality was not as painful as losing his ability to become one with the ravens.
Sig adds a special something to the story. The reader knows he’s more than just a coyote, but he hasn’t displayed any unusual abilities, other than being more intelligent and affectionate than one would think a coyote would be.
My main disappointment was with the direction the author went with the sheriff. I don’t want to say too much, because of spoilers, but I’ll say that it was hard for me to believe how he switched back and forth between normal and insane.
Although the author does give some backstory here and there, the story moved along quickly. I never felt like the story got bogged down by exposition. Even when there was exposition, it was interesting enough to keep the pace. Also, for action junkies like myself, there is enough external conflict to keep readers on the edge of their seats.
Suspense was built by leaving questions unanswered. The mystery of what really happened to Skinflint Jack’s family was never answered to my satisfaction. I hope that the answer comes in the next book. Also, the reader is left in suspense about Petra’s health. The book ends on a cliffhanger, which I know will upset some readers. I wasn’t particularly upset by it because the main conflict in this book had been resolved. If Skinflint Jack had still been running around killing wolves and attacking people, I would have been more angry about the cliffhanger.
The settings came alive. I was able to visualize everything. I believe this is one of the strongest elements of the book. Temperance, Wyoming is a small but interesting town. I think, though, that the author’s ability shines most when the characters are in the backcountry. I felt like I was with them, freezing and trudging through snow.
I don’t have any complaints about the writing. The book was well-edited, easy to follow, and consistent with details. Laura Bickle is an excellent writer.
Hooked or Not?
I am totally hooked on NINE OF STARS and the other books in the Dark Alchemy series. Laura Bickle adds in just enough of the supernatural and folklore to keep my interest. The characters are also a big part of why I keep reading the books in this series.
If you like books based on urban legends, folklore, or Native American mythology, you should give the Dark Alchemy series a try. At first it seems weird, because it is so different from what most authors write, but it grows on you. It’s a nice change from reading about vampires or werewolves. The Hanged Men, although gone by this novel, were a unique group of supernatural beings. Their story continues in NINE OF STARS, despite the tree being destroyed, because Laura Bickle keeps building upon the story about the town’s founder and his use of alchemy.
Bottom line, read NINE OF STARS if you haven’t yet. I loved it, and I’m looking forward to reading the next book when it comes out.
About Laura Bickle
Laura Bickle grew up in rural Ohio, reading entirely too many comic books out loud to her favorite Wonder Woman doll. After graduating with an MA in Sociology – Criminology from Ohio State University and an MLIS in Library Science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, she patrolled the stacks at the public library and worked with data systems in criminal justice. She now dreams up stories about the monsters under the stairs, also writing contemporary fantasy novels under the name Alayna Williams. Her newest release is NINE OF STARS, out December 27 from Harper Voyager. The latest info on her work can be found at www.laurabickle.com.
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