Review: Liar’s Moon

Liar’s Moon by Elizabeth C. Bunce. Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic. 2011. Review copy from publisher. Sequel to StarCrossed. Spoilers for StarCrossed.

The Plot: Lord Durrel Decath is in prison, accused of murdering his wife. Decath saved Digger’s life once. She owes him. She knows he could not have done it, and uses her skills as a thief and a spy to try to figure out what happened. Of course, nothing is ever as simple as it looks.

The Good: Digger, from StarCrossed, is back and oh, she is such fun to be around! Even better is that Liar’s Moon is a full out mystery, with Digger as the Veronica Mars. (What, you thought I’d say Nancy Drew?) How great is it that StarCrossed wasn’t a mystery, and Liar’s Moon is!

Let’s back up a little. When last we saw Digger, she was part of something, admittedly under another name, with the army of rebellion. Turns out, what Digger wanted most was to go home to Gerse. It didn’t matter that her love and partner, Tegen, was dead. She wanted home. So she’s back, but distanced from those she met in StarCrossed, even those who are also now in Gerse, because her brother is after her. Her brother, the Inquisitor, a man of great power and cruelty.

You know what’s funny? And another reason I love this book? I think any other author would have reversed these two books: introduced us to Digger first in her familiar setting so we could get to know her. Digger the Thief, inhabitant of Gerse, knowing the back alleys, seeing the town as a thief. Then, after knowing Digger, put her and the reader in the new, unfamiliar world outside of Gerse. Instead, Bunce switched it up. Not only that, but Durrel Decath only appeared in the first few chapters of StarCrossed. Yes, he matters — he helped save Digger’s life — but his was such a brief appearance that it’s a surprise not only that he shows up, but that he shows up in prison, and that he needs Digger’s help. Other authors would have played up Durrel’s role in the first book simply because he was going to show up in the second. That Bunce didn’t do that, that she used Durrel in the first book for exactly the amount of time he needed to be there — brave and genius.

Digger, Digger, Digger. I love that she is so in her element, and aware. This is who she is: tough. Smart. Loyal. Moral; because yes, despite the fact that she is a thief, a criminal, sometimes a spy, she has a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong. She lives in a world that is corrupt, a world where those in power abuse it; a thief with a heart of gold makes much more sense than her brother, the Inquisitor who legally tortures and kills and persecutes.

The mystery is tightly plotted. Digger tracks down clues, follows up leads, learns more than she’d care to know. Digger’s world may be one of magic, but magic only complicates things, it doesn’t solve them.

I can’t wait for the next book! Not only because of what happens in the last chapter of Liar’s Moon, but also because I’m interested in seeing how Bunce will mix it up once again. Meanwhile, also check out the Bookshelves of Doom review which has this terrific line: “this is DURREL DECATH. He doesn’t go around killing people. He just… goes around being awesome. And, you know: Dreamy.”

Some insights into the series are in this interview with Bunce and a three part interview on the writing process (Part I, Part II, Part III) at Brooklyn Arden.

Review: StarCrossed

StarCrossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce.  Scholastic. 2010. Library copy.

The Plot: A robbery gone bad means Digger, sixteen, must flee her home city of Gerse. One lie leads to another, and the next thing she knows, Digger is going by the name Celyn and is a lady’s maid to a young, shy noblewoman, Merista Nemair, living in luxury, deep in the country. It should be a sweet setup: clothes, food, a soft bed, people who don’t keep an eye on the coins and jewlery and other small things Celyn secrets away. Problem is, Digger likes Merista and her family even if they are “nobs.”

Things get more comlicated when another “nob,” Lord Daul, discovers her secret and blackmails her into spying for him. Digger is annoyed, inconvenienced, and feels conflicted about betraying her friends; or, rather, the people who think she’s a trusted friend. It’s worse than she thinks.

Less than twenty years ago, there was war between religious factions and the winners banned magic. The “Greenmen” hunt out those who are born with magic, those who practice it, they bribe neighbors and torture suspects. Digger is just a thief, and she has no magic. She does have a gift she keeps well-hidden: the ability to sense magic in others. Other than evading the Greenmen, she doesn’t care about the war or factions. Until she realizes that spying for Lord Daul is more serious than she realizes; the risks are higher. It’s nothing less than a possible magical rebellion, and Digger is caught in the middle of it.

The Good: Digger/Celyn is fascinating; a girl who has taken care of herself by being a pickpocket and thief. A girl who hides many things: who she was before she became a thief. Who she is now. Digger has only two loyalties: to Tegen, her partner, who died in that ill fated robbery; and to herself. She is smart, she is talented, she takes care of herself. Meeting up with Meri and her family changes that. Meri, four years younger than Digger, is so trusting, so nice, so sweet. Meri’s family, too, accepts Digger. No; they accept Celyn, and her story of running away from a convent. That should have been a clue, that Meri’s family was willing to take in a runaway from the religious faction controlling the country.

I have always had a soft spot for stories about thieves, especially those who turn out to have a heart of gold. Bonus points when the thief happens to be a girl.

Bunce has created a country and a geography with a complex religion; or, rather, complex religions with multiple gods. Religious intolerance and persecutions take place against not only followers of one god defeating the followers of another, but with those followers securing their power through the “Greenmen,” a quasi police force dedicated to discovering magic. Magic has to be hidden; magic has to be stamped out; magic has to be destroyed. Digger and Meri are of the generation born right after the war; Meri’s parents, Lord Daul, and their friends are the ones who fought a war, lost (or won), and have been living with the consequences.

Digger has secrets she is reluctant to share, so I won’t share them here. StarCrossed is her journey, from caring about herself, about the next meal, the next job, to — reluctantly — caring about others.

One last thing: about the cover. Covers showing parts of a person’s face isn’t unusual for books. What I like about StarCrossed‘s cover is that it makes sense that Digger is half behind a door, hiding, only showing part of herself to the reader.