The Name of the Star

Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux flies to London for the start of a new life at boarding school. But her arrival is overshadowed by a sudden outbreak of brutal murders, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific work of Jack the Ripper.

‘Rippermania’ grabs hold of London, and police are stumped with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory has seen their prime suspect on the school grounds. But her friend Jazza didn’t see anyone.

So why could only Rory see him? And what is he planning to do next?

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If you read the news, you might be aware that we have not had a good few weeks here in the UK. We have pretty much been lurching from one disaster to the next without much in the way of breathing space.

A distraction read was definitely needed, and it was with that in mind that I turned to one of my faves: Maureen Johnson, one of my personal YA queens. Last week I binge reread the first three Shades of London books.

These books have everything you need for a good distraction.

  • Boarding school
  • Love triangle (emerging)
  • Ghosts (especially snarky ones who love The Smiths)

Really anything else is extra, but in The Name of the Star, Johnson spoils us. It’s half cute contemporary American girl in London story, half murdery ghost hunting thriller. All the elements fit together in a way that is seamless and compulsively readable.

Rory is a fantastic protagonist. She’s a New Orleans-ean (is that a thing?) figuring out the etiquette of Londoners and her newfound ability to see ghosts – and she manages it all while resisting trope-ish special snowflake behaviour. She brings with her from the US a cast of eccentric characters in the form of her family and friends back in Benouville (Ben-ah-VEEL, for the uninitiated), stories about whom Johnson uses masterfully for both comedic and dramatic effect (you wouldn’t think that a story about a guy with eight freezers could leave you feeling like someone grabbed your entire heart with their fist, but during The Name of the Star, you’ll learn that it can).

Despite a good chunk of the first book being dedicated to the non-ghost related friends Rory makes at boarding school (who are mostly plot devices for what comes later, but sweet and entertaining nevertheless), it’s a pacey read. The majority of the novel is first person and narrated by Rory, but the narrative is interspersed with third person chapters concerning people related to, but also outside of, the immediate plot – murder victims, computer hackers and journalists. It all works together to create the sense of the ‘Rippermania’ that grips the city, the fear and the obsession that is fascinating, sickening and unavoidable.

There is always something terrible happening somewhere. If you’re lucky, it’s somewhere else.

(Spoiler alert: Rory is kind of an unlucky person.)

And then Rory meets the ghost police. They are all – for somewhat tenuous reasons – teenagers, and working for the arm of the government even the government doesn’t know exists. Stephen Dene, Bhuvana ‘Boo’ Chaudhri and Callum (who I have just this second realised doesn’t have a surname? If I’m wrong about that please correct me) AKA the ghostbusters are the kind of supernatural team we all want to join. Callum, the angry, let’s ‘kill’ ‘em all soldier for justice against evil spirits; Boo, friend of the ghosts; and Stephen, the emotionally unavailable head of operations I couldn’t help but fall in love with.

This book has the right levels of teen crushes, slow burn romance, epic teamwork and bloody murder – which it is, btw. It’s about Jack the Ripper: there’s no such thing as sparing us the gory details.

The Shades of London is a refreshing series from a great and witty writer. It has something for everyone – whether you’re looking for a cute contemporary, a paranormal with a slow burn romance or a thriller so intense it’ll make your blood run cold.

Top Ten Tuesday: Halloween Special

‘Warning: You may have a huge, invisible spider living inside your skull. This is not a metaphor.

You will dismiss this as ridiculous fearmongering. Dismissing things as ridiculous fearmongering is, in fact, the first symptom of parasitic spider infection – the creature secretes a chemical into the brain to stimulate scepticism, in order to prevent you from seeking a cure. That’s just as well, since the “cure” involves learning what a chainsaw tastes like.’

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The Bloody Chamber – Angela Carter

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You know the story of Bluebeard, right? When he isn’t looking, his innocent new wife stumbles into the one room in their house he keeps locked – his make-shift tomb, filled with the bodies of his murdered lovers.

Moral of the story: If your new husband has a locked room in his house/ship that he’s weirdly evasive about, run away.

John Dies @ the End – David Wong

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I know I’ve mentioned this one before. But it’s one of my favourite books ever. It makes sense that it would come up a lot.

‘STOP

You should not have touched this book with your bare hands.

No, don’t put it down. It’s too late.

They’re watching you.

My name is David Wong. My best friend is John. Those names are fake. You might want to change yours. You may not want to know about the things you’ll read on those pages, about the sauce, about Korrock, about the invasion, and the future. But it’s too late. You touched the book. You’re in the game. You’re under the eye.

The only defense is knowledge. You need to read this book, to the end. Even the part with the bratwurst. Why? You just have to trust me.’

This was a random bookshop find for me. You get why I had to buy it, right?

This Book is Made of Spiders – David Wong

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‘Warning: You may have a huge, invisible spider living inside your skull. This is not a metaphor.

You will dismiss this as ridiculous fearmongering. Dismissing things as ridiculous fearmongering is, in fact, the first symptom of parasitic spider infection – the creature secretes a chemical into the brain to stimulate scepticism, in order to prevent you from seeking a cure. That’s just as well, since the “cure” involves learning what a chainsaw tastes like.’

Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

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This book is a manifestation of all the Victorian fears around scientific and technological progress. Mary Shelley wants us to consider the idea that someone, somewhere has probably built a man from the parts of various dead men, and that he’s feeling pretty murderous about it.

Lot No. 249 – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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A student at Oxford University reanimates an ancient Egyptian mummy. It runs around the city murdering anyone it can get its hands on.

This story serves to answer the question we’ve all wondered: What are the weird noises we can hear in the flat upstairs? A reanimated ancient Egyptian mummy, of course.

Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime – Oscar Wilde

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During a dinner party at a friend’s house, Lord Arthur is informed by a famed psychic that it is his destiny to become a murderer.  Lord Arthur is horrified by the revelation, and resolves to get the awful deed out of the way as soon as possible in order than he can marry the woman he loves (it is not right, in his mind, to marry before so horrible but inevitable a task is completed). As such he sets about attempting to commit a murder. However, killing someone is not as simple a business as he would have imagined.

Until it is.

One night on his way home from work, Arthur sees the psychic who caused him all these problems leaning on a bridge, staring down into the water. One quick push later, Arthur has achieved his task and is now free to marry his girlfriend, Sybil.

Dracula – Bram Stoker

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A vampire invades London, frightening its men and corrupting the innocence of its good 19th century ladies.

Reading this book you can’t help but wonder if Bram Stoker’s real fear isn’t the monster he describes, but instead the possibility of female sexuality. When one of the female characters turns into a vampire she becomes an overtly sexual being. The men’s reaction? Cut her head off.

Grasshopper Jungle – Andrew Smith

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‘In the small town of Ealing, Iowa, Austin and his best friend Robby have accidentally unleashed an unstoppable army. An army of horny, hungry, six-foot-tall praying mantises that only want to do two things.

This is the truth. This is history.

It’s the end of the world.

And nobody knows anything about it.’

Warm Bodies – Isaac Marion

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In this book a zombie falls in love with a girl and gradually starts become human again. It’s one of the only zombie-related stories I have ever read.

It’s in this list because cute romance or not, the zombie apocalypse terrifies me. I have decided that were it to happen, I would rather go early. I would rather be a happy brainless zombie than live in that world as a human. This fatalistic attitude may have sprung from the fact that I live right down the road from a graveyard, so if the zombie apocalypse were to go down, I would be totally screwed.

The Name of the Star – Maureen Johnson

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This book is about ghosts. Specifically, the ghost of Jack the Ripper. You can imagine what he must be up to. It’s the job of Rory and her gang of ghost hunters to bring the murderer down. Hopefully for good, this time.