>> Friday, March 07, 2014
TITLE: And All The Stars
AUTHOR: Andrea K Höst
PAGES: 204, according to amazon. It's 90K words, feels longer than 200 pages!
SETTING: Contemporary Sidney
Madeleine Cost is working to become the youngest person ever to win the Archibald Prize for portraiture. Her elusive cousin Tyler is the perfect subject: androgynous, beautiful, and famous. All she needs to do is pin him down for the sittings.
None of her plans factored in the Spires: featureless, impossible, spearing into the hearts of cities across the world – and spraying clouds of sparkling dust into the wind.
Is it an alien invasion? Germ warfare? They are questions everyone on Earth would like answered, but Madeleine has a more immediate problem. At Ground Zero of the Sydney Spire, beneath the collapsed ruin of St James Station, she must make it to the surface before she can hope to find out if the world is ending.
Stray, the first book I tried by Andrea K Höst, was a DNF, but that didn't put me off her books. I'd enjoyed the setup and the writing, and it was quite clearly a matter of the format not quite working for me. I was quite willing to try another of her books, especially because loads of people who share my taste in books told me I should :)
Well, they were totally, absolutely right, especially in telling me to read And All The Stars next. It was fantastic.
AATS starts similarly to Stray, right in the middle of things. Madeleine Cost had snuck out of school to meet her cousin Tyler. Madeleine is an excellent portraitist, and is determined be the youngest winner of a prominent prize for the discipline. Tyler, a famous actor, is the perfect subject. She's waiting for him at the train station when all hell breaks loose.
The book starts as Madeleine comes to after... well, she doesn't know after what. The station is in pieces and there's bodies lying all over, which Madeleine tries to avoid as she laboriously makes her way out of the ruins, and everything is covered in a strange, colourful, sparkling dust. And there's something weird right in the middle, a sort of structure, which violently flings her off when she touches it.
When she manages to get out, walking through deserted streets, with people looking at her dust-covered self in horror from inside locked shops and houses, she makes her way to a television. And there she discovers that every large city in the world has experienced the same: they all have spire-like structures shooting up in some central location, and everything is covered in the strange dust.
And that is all I'm going to say about the plot, because part of the fun is to read this without having any idea of what on earth is going on or where Höst is going to take her story. All I will tell you is that it's original and fresh and brilliantly done. Madeleine is a great character, but this is basically an ensemble story, where the dynamics of the group who gather together to do what needs to be done are as important as the individual characters (all of whom are really well developed and characterised, as well). I particularly liked the matter-of-fact multiculturalism of the group. It makes sense, because if you take a random selection of people in downtown Sidney (or quite a few major cities, really), of course you're going to get a variety of ethnicities and backgrounds! It would have been positively stupid to have an all-white cast in a story with this setup.
The reason I stopped with Stray was because I got bored. Well, there wasn't any danger of that happening here. There are plenty of heart-pounding moments of adventure, but just as gripping was the planning for those moments. I also loved the interactions between the characters and seeing how all the different relationships developed. I particularly liked how the turns some of them took actually questioned the idea of what is identity and what makes someone's self. It made me think.
Additionally, I thought the story struck the perfect balance between the local and the global. Obviously, we're in Sidney and following the story of what happens with this particular group of people, but there is no sense of isolation. It's a global crisis, and there's a sense of a global community coming together and sharing information. Communications are still up and used to develop an understanding of what's going on. I thought that was really well done.
So yes, thanks to all who urged me to give Höst another try. I think I might even go back to Stray and give it another shot.
MY GRADE: A very solid A-.