Star Light, Star Bright
It’s always something of a gamble when a romance novel contains paranormal elements. They might make a book more memorable than the typical conventional read, but if there are flaws, they tend to be more glaring. Katherine Stone’s Star Light, Star Bright has an isolated fantasy aspect and a psychological conflict involving a couple of suspicious deaths. The book is certainly different, though not in a good way. The mystery it presents is mildly interesting, but plot problems make the story relentlessly uninvolving.
Rafael is a Mexican whose village was buried in a mudslide. He journeys to America, changes his name to Rafe McClure, and is eventually hired as a stable hand in FoxHaven, the Forsythe family’s Virginia estate. Here he meets Brooke Blair and later, Lily Forsythe. Sharing a love for horses, Rafe and Brooke are attracted to each other from their first meeting.
Brooke’s mother, Marla, was informally adopted by the Forsythes, the family of her best friend Carolyn. Thus, Brooke has grown up at FoxHaven alongside Carolyn’s daughter, Lily. By the time the story begins, Carolyn has died and Marla is engaged to marry John, who is Lily’s father and Carolyn’s surviving spouse.
Lily, who struggles with a complex congenital illness, seems to have been purposely created to be the monkey wrench in the machinery of Rafe and Brooke’s romance. When Brooke’s mother and Lily’s father are found dead of gunshot wounds, Brooke leaves FoxHaven in the ensuing controversy. In the years that follow, Rafe and Lily form an intimate bond.
My first thought upon reading the first few pages was, Is this a fantasy romance? While contemporary terms like DNA and the Internet are mentioned, the Mexican prologue is set several centuries in the past. The time period then shifts into the present time, within Rafe’s lifetime. That is to say, the book opens in the 16th century with the story of Rafe’s Aztec childhood, and there are references to ancient practices like superstitious thinking and religious sacrifices. The mudslide that kills Rafe’s entire family is attributed to the displeasure of one of the gods. In the course of his journey north to America, he ages into his early twenties, and time moves forward into the 21st century, he learns to speak the English language, and somehow gains entry into the US where he eventually acquires American citizenship. All this is told in several pages. The first chapter is simply said to take place “twelve years ago,” and Rafe has arrived in FoxHaven by Chapter 2. “Present Day” begins about a hundred pages into the book, when Brooke returns to FoxHaven intending to come to terms with the past – and her feelings for Rafe.
What’s wrong with this picture is that its inclusion in the story seems pointless. Why provide a character with a paranormal background that doesn’t have anything to do with the main conflict, in which the characters uncover the reasons behind Marla and John’s deaths? All that the Aztec side story serves to do is strain credulity.
As strange as it sounds, there’s also no prevailing point of view, especially in the beginning. Some tidbits of information are mentioned that no single character could possibly have known. The omniscient narrator creates a feeling of distance from the characters, so that it’s difficult to harbor any sympathetic feeling toward Rafe and Brooke, much less care about their love story.
Finally, like many conflicts of this sort, the love triangle that develops among the three main characters is simply frustrating, especially Brooke’s defeatist attitude and readiness to give up Rafe once Lily comes into the picture. And while the conflict of the past has the feel of an intriguing gothic mystery, the suspense is spoiled by an overwhelming barrage of medical jargon. Lily’s illness apparently necessitates the long-winded narration of obscure terms in various parts of the book, which sounds particularly strange coming in the dialogue.
Granted, it’s different – but not involving enough to justify the hardcover price. Unless you’re a fan of the love triangle plot, you don’t mind tangential fantastic elements, or you’re dying to know what causes disseminated intravascular coagulopathy, you’re better off spending close to $23 (hardcover price) on other things. This barely-readable book isn’t worth it.