Dark Star by Bethany Frenette – Review

Book Jacket:

Audrey Whitticomb has nothing to fear. Her mother is the superhero Morning Star, the most deadly crime-fighter in the Twin Cities, so it’s hard for Audrey not to feel safe. That is, until she’s lured into the sweet night air by something human and not human–something with talons and teeth, and a wide, scarlet smile.

Now Audrey knows the truth: her mom doesn’t fight crime at night. She fights Harrowers–livid, merciless beings who were trapped Beneath eons ago. Yet some have managed to escape. And they want Audrey dead, just because of who she is: one of the Kin.

To survive, Audrey will need to sharpen the powers she has always had. When she gets close to someone, dark corners of the person’s memories become her own, and she sometimes even glimpses the future. If Audrey could only get close to Patrick Tigue, a powerful Harrower masquerading as human, she could use her Knowing to discover the Harrowers’ next move. But Leon, her mother’s bossy, infuriatingly attractive sidekick, has other ideas. Lately, he won’t let Audrey out of his sight.

When an unthinkable betrayal puts Minneapolis in terrible danger, Audrey discovers a wild, untamed power within herself. It may be the key to saving her herself, her family, and her city. Or it may be the force that destroys everything–and everyone–she loves.

You can read an excerpt here.


Comic-book style books have become something of a thing of late – take After the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn, Only Superhuman by Christopher R. Bennet, and Trance by Kelly Meding, to name a few – and yet none of these type of books have landed with the kind of splash that would herald superheroes (well, in book form, at least) as The Next Big Thing. And now into the fray leaps Dark Star, a YA that is both a comic book book and yet not a comic book book. It starts out firmly in the comic-y realm, and then by and large settles fairly quickly into a standard paranormal YA groove. So, what then to make of this book? Is it something new, a genre mash up of a type we haven’t seen before? Well, no, not really – if anything I’d call this story comfortably familiar in a lot of ways – but it’s certainly competent, and overall fun to read. I just find that this book, while perfectly pleasant, didn’t make any kind of indelible impression on me.

First off, Dark Star opens with a very fun perspective on the typical superhero set-up (ye old costumed protector of the night) – that of the daughter of a Superhero Mom. Audrey has some ability herself – she has a Knowing, as she calls it, that lets her read people – but she’s far from indestructible, and overall is very much a teenager who hates math homework. And I really liked that dynamic, that of a teen girl just living her life, despite protecting her Mom’s secret identity – and then the mystery started to gear up, with teenage girls mysteriously being killed, which I also very much enjoyed, and as Audrey was inexorably drawn into sleuthing, I was perfectly happy to read along.

But then, as the superhero world began to open up, the story kind of wandered into fairly typical paranormal YA territory. Suddenly we had a secret paranormal world, Audrey discovering more and more about her powers/heritage, magical solutions cropping up left and right, and destined fate rearing its ugly head – and it all just felt…familiar. Now there was nothing wrong with any of it, per se – it all worked, made sense, and was interesting – but I just started to feel, as will any paranormal YA fan, I think, that I’d read it all before.

And yet I feel like I’m doing this story a disservice, by labeling it generic, because I did like a lot about it. I liked Audrey, and I liked her relationship with her friends, her Mom, and her Mom’s annoying sidekick. I liked the Big Scary Creatures, and the sense of danger they brought to the proceedings, and I enjoyed watching Audrey figure out what was really going on. And yet, despite all of that, I just still wasn’t truly, urgently vested in this story.

Maybe part of why I can lay at the feet of the prologue, which to me was a dead giveaway – from very early on I knew how this story was going to end. And perhaps I can blame part of it on the fact that while I found all the characters personable, I never felt like the story really got deeper than banter-level with any of them. And maybe part of it is that the ending was strangely deflated, in that the Big Bad was somewhat anticlimactic by that point – and the larger evil scheme of evil was clearly shuffled off to the next book (or books). And maybe another factor is the fact that the romance, while sweet and wonderfully not all-consuming, just never really stole my breath away.

And yet again I can’t help but feel I’m doing this story a disservice, because there were some things that I really, really liked about it. I really liked how Frenette did justice to the discovery of her hidden world – how she showed the shock a teen girl would feel upon discovery, how she showed it completely shaking up Audrey’s world view, emotional fall-out included. And there was one line in this book I particularly enjoyed, where a character basically called Audrey out on thinking she and her Mom were special, were something more than everyone else. And I loved how Audrey was then honest enough with herself to admit – yeah, yeah I guess I did.

So then, where does this all leave this book? I did like it, I did enjoy reading it, and there’s certainly nothing overtly wrong with it. The story works, and is fun, and I flew thorough it easily enough. But it’s just that, when all was said and done, I found myself left with something of a generic taste in my mouth. And to be fair, that might be because I’ve read one paranormal YA and watched one comic-book movie too many – but still, at the end of the day, while I’d be perfectly willing to pick up the next book in this series, I also feel no burning desire to do so. Make of that what you will.

Byrt Grade: B+

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

Kirkus Reviews says:

Decidedly more urban fantasy than comic book, Frenette’s debut features a variety of characters and should please readers looking for paranormal without so much romance.

A Read of Fictions says:

I ended up really enjoying Dark Star. Is it perfect? No. Is it fun? Heck yes!

Chapter by Chapter says:

If you read a lot of stuff from DC comics, then hopefully you know who Zatanna Zatara is…the main character Audrey was so much like Zatanna that I was freaking out.  My comic side was having a field day with the comparisons between the two…Awesome-sauce? I think yes.