An opium-addicted beauty.
An infamous poet living in self-imposed exile.
An ancient treasure about to fall into the wrong hands.
Melanie Karsak’s Chasing the Star Garden takes readers on a thrilling adventure from the gritty opium dens of gaslamp London to the gem-colored waters of the ancient world. Lily Stargazer, a loveable but reckless airship racer with a famous lover and shattered past, reluctantly plunges into a centuries-old mystery in a romantic adventure best described as Dan Brown meets Mary Shelley.
It all begins on one of the worst days of Lily’s life. She just lost the London leg of the 1823 Airship Grand Prix. To top it off, a harlequin fleeing from constables shoved a kaleidoscope down her pants, told her to fly to Venice, then threw himself from her airship tower. What’s a girl to do? For Lily, the answer is easy: drink absinthe and smoke opium.
Lily’s lover, Lord Byron, encourages her to make the trip to Venice. Lily soon finds herself at the heart of an ancient mystery which has her running from her past and chasing true love and the stars along the way.
(re: Goodreads @ Chasing The Star Garden by Melanie Karsak)
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr spoiler-less review:
- It’s like the Da Vinci Code meets Indiana Jones – a treasure-hunt of sorts on both tangible/intangible extremes.
- Fancy steampunk? World building is superb and this is a fast-paced read that might fit your bill.
- Anti-heroine is fleshed out well. She also inhales drugs and alcohol like oxygen. So that’s cool.
I don’t really understand the hype of steampunk or the vintage feel of steam-powered technology. I mean, I guess I can visualise the appeal others might have…but it just never did it for me. And then I was graced with this read; which I will say kind of changed my perception of steampunk. Not by much, but it’s a step in the right direction in discovering new things.
Let me throw down some concrete thoughts:
Disclaimer: Potential spoilers inherent to this review from here onward.
[“You see, my Lily, with determination, all monsters can be overcome. It is written in the stars.”]
Between the synopsis and the narrative, I could almost say that you’ve read the entire book if you only read that little blurb. But then you’d be lacking the vintage steampunk influenced Victorian styling of architecture, technology, and characterisation that is unique to this genre of novelisations. Yet this particular layering of science-fiction world building is only a layer among other themes to be had. From an adventurous voyage filled with suggestive sexual scenes to the historically laden mystery of an interwoven past amongst many characters, this novel may fit the bill for many readers on a variety of levels.
[“In that moment, I knew I had to stop running from myself. It was time to accept the past for what it was and move on. I had to quit my habits. It was time to have a real life.”]
This novel is pegged to be young adult, and frankly, I can see why it is. The either-or debate of young adults within an already oversexualized, substance-ridden society is one we today can see to be somewhat relevant. But is this true for a makeshift world? It’s one of those standing elephant-in-the-room things. The sky’s unfathomably blue. Is it? Blatant sexual context and being under the influence of substance (drugs and alcohol combined) holds much truth in the either-or world. So while these tangible things hold a sense of negativity, there is much to be said about the unspoken positives exhibited; regardless of how short-lived it may be. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not at all suggesting that we (or young adults rather) should all kick back in compromising positions with a pipe of opium and a swig of throat-burning beverage simply based on this novels wishful thinking on certain issues but rather optimistically consider these facets as a piece towards world building.
[“I took off my hat and knelt before the statue. Given my upbringing, I was not a religious girl. And I had never before sensed the divine except at the edge of an opium high.”]
Speaking of world building, there was so much brought to life as readers are taken on the mental and physical treasure hunt through Europe. As fast-paced as the novel was, Karsak didn’t skimp on her vision in describing the surfacing regardless of being in the air, on the ground, or at sea. I will admit that the image on the book cover was pivotal in my perception of the aircraft; otherwise my mentally concocted airship would have been sparsely different. You’ll just have to take my word for it since I would never be able to describe (or draw) it out for you (which means I’m on the losing Pictionary team). The tie-in to the overarching steampunk world does feel like a learning curve at first. This is particularly understandable as the comfort level in visualising gadgets and contraptions may not be mentally malleable to some compared to true diehards of this subgenre. But either way, I found it to be an interesting educational lesson towards elements in the steampunk-verse.
[“Unfortunately, it seemed like Roni’s altimeter had stopped working, but I had no interest in going into high altitude. My head pounding, I was still high enough by myself.”]
The crafted world is seen through the eyes of Lily Stargazer, the anti-heroine to this narrative who’s tomboyish and substance-abusing demeanor tests the limits of first impression has on deciding whether or not a protagonist is likeable and relatable. Who usually roots for the chronic drug abuser? She’s certainly a character that you would not expect to sympathize with. Her development was fleshed out in parallel to the treasure hunt of a journey. As readers get deeper into the mystery surrounding the kaleidoscope and its mythology, flashbacks are taken to detail the compelling self justifications she makes towards her current addiction status and sense of void in having relationships. By the same token, she doesn’t use her past as a crutch to the future; there were never avenues of choice or opportunity for her to discover herself. Now, the journey in disguise is a path towards a better place and whether right or wrong, the choice is at her discretion. And readers should find hope in that.
In terms of supporting characters, I wish her actual crew (Angus and Jessup) played a larger role. They were quirky individuals whose quips, I thought, lifted the dialogue. On the contrary, Lily’s relationship in the love-triangle was not as well received as I felt it could have been. And I’m not talking about the numerous sex scenes she had with her partners. I’m not trying to discredit a non-romance centric novel for this thematic use to (at times) fall short of expectations. But rather since her relationships (romantic or not) play a large role in who she decides to become, the chemistry between her romantic interests felt forced.
[“Maybe I had no business in this mess, but a man had died to pass the kaleidoscope to me. People only sacrifice their lives for a few reasons: love, religion, or money.”]
Taking a look at the narrative, the overall pacing was wonderfully layered but plays out with a balance of both predictability and surprises. It really depends on how you look at some things. I honestly didn’t expect all the Greek mythology to be interwoven into the plot as much as it did. I was bamboozled. I mean it makes sense in the grand scheme of things but I was initially thrown off by the historical influxes that picked at my thoughts. It felt more complex than it actually was due to the treasure-hunt antics of discovering the meaning behind the pieces to her life and how things ended up fitting together. Personally, this wasn’t really a thought provoking read since me and Greek mythologies aren’t best buds. But I did find it to be rather enjoyable as its titular namesake suggests: a fast chase through the star garden.
//review ends here.
So I totally spent more time gaming than reading. Oops. But I still sort of stuck to the self-established goal of meeting the (at least) one write-up a week requirement.
Onward to the next read.