The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson – Advance Review

Book Jacket:

The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it’s the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper events of more than a century ago.

Soon “Rippermania” takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was walking with her at the time, didn’t notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.

You can read an excerpt here.


The Name of the Star is a fast, entertaining read, and as an introduction to the urban fantasy genre, this book works well – I think fans of Maureen Johnson’s contemporary series will enjoy seeing her stretch across genre lines – but for the established urban fantasy fans, well…there really is nothing new to this story.

From English boarding school and an American girl abroad, to foggy London streets, ghosts, murders, and even cute boys, pretty much every element of this story oozes familiar likability. Johnson easily taps into the grisly fascination Jack the Ripper evokes and hijacks the legend with aplomb, supplying plenty of spooky skulking through the foggy streets of London. She also employs her trademark wit to good effect, delivering plenty of fun character repartee and high school atmosphere – despite the chilling parts of this book, there is just a bounciness about this story that is hard to resist. Equal parts chick lit and ghost story, The Name of the Star is eminently readable – but I’d definitely have to call it Urban Fantasy Lite.

On the fantasy side, Johnson stays firmly on well trod genre paths. Ghosts, seeing the dead, a paranormal investigative branch… Sounds familiar, no? Johnson excels in the high school arena, no question, pumping the crushes and blushes and odd roommates for every iota of fun – and when I put down this book, I found my favorite parts were the vignettes of Rory telling stories about her kooky family back home –  but this was a Jack the Ripper ghost story I had just finished reading, and honestly I REALLY didn’t want my favorite parts of this book to be on the chick lit side. But the “other” aspects of this story are very bare – it kind of felt like Johnson was stuffing all her originality into the cracks and crevices of a standard UF paradigm – and so the plot was left leaning heavily on the Jack the Ripper legend. And while that legend is certainly engrossing in and of itself, unfortunately it doesn’t come with a particularly good ending. Johnson fills out the end of her story with some paranormal plotting, but the tropes were rather painfully apparent – and the ghost-busting MacGuffin did trigger some eye-rolling on my part. I kept waiting for Johnson to bring something new to the table, but trappings aside, it just never showed up – but again, if you don’t know what to expect from this type of story, you probably won’t have this reaction.

In the end, I feel about this book the same way I feel about Ben Aaronovitch’s urban fantasy series – I enjoy it while I’m reading it, particularly the wit and repartee, but when I close the back cover I find myself dissatisfied. Upon reflection there just isn’t enough meat to it all. Still there’s no denying The Name of the Star has a fun way about it, and I’m sure to pick up the next book in this series – I just find myself in no particular rush to do so.

Byrt Grade: B+

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Publishers Weekly says:

Johnson’s trademark sense of humor serves to counterbalance some grisly murders in this page-turner, which opens her Shades of London series…With the sordidness of Criminal Minds and the goofiness of Ghostbusters, it’s a fresh paranormal story. Rory is a protagonist with confidence and a quick wit, and her new friends are well-developed and distinctive…

Tales of the Ravenous Reader says:

The Name of the Star is good read with solid moments of terror, laughter and lush settings to set you on edge and make you question those items that move and are unexplained, but it is a bit slow and could have used a bit of tightening up to make this novel really shine.

Kirkus Reviews says:

Nice touches about friendship, kissing, research and the way a boy’s curls might touch his collar fully integrate with a clear-eyed look at a pitiless killer.