Status: Complete, Word Count: 261,900, Genre: Adventure
Read the Fic Here: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/7689884/1/Alexandra-Quick-and-the-Stars-Above
Author’s Summary: Alexandra Quick is determined to cheat her fate and see justice done, but she faces a vengeful conspiracy and secrets she is not prepared for. She’ll need the help of her friends, but even that may not be enough against the power of the Stars Above.
Warning: This review will contain SPOILERS for Alexandra Quick books 1 – 3. I will not spoil anything specific from Stars Above, though. Proceed at your own risk.
My Thoughts: So Alexandra Quick and the Stars Above is the fourth book in Inverarity’s absolutely fantastic Alexandra Quick series. For any of you who are at all familiar with me or my opinions on this series, you probably know how it’s going to go, so I won’t be nearly as coy about my overall thoughts here as I often am in other reviews. So without further ado, let’s get started!
Right away, the strongest thing about the entire series is and continues to be its fantastic cast of characters. Everyone you loved in the previous books is back, and we get introduced to a few new characters who continue to be both memorable and entertaining. To start, Alexandra is back and I still really like her. The events of Deathly Regiment have clearly made a mark on her, and I really appreciate the clear shift forward her character has right at the beginning of the story. This one opens a few months after the ending of book three, and in that time, the changes to her character that we saw as part of its conclusion seem to have mostly solidified. She’s not a whole new person, or anything like that, but she has a much lighter and happier vibe now, she’s come to grips with her grief, and she’s spending her summer with the Kings and dabbling in proper dating for the first time in her life. This is a very different side to her than we’ve ever seen before, but it feels very true to her character. Not to mention, she’s still very stubborn, and reckless, and still has a bit of trouble connecting with other kids her age, as is shown through her relationship with Payton. It’s not like all of her flaws have gone away, it’s that they’re a bit less pronounced, and manifest themselves slightly differently.
Not to mention, this is her at a time of relative emotional stability. Once the book actually kicks into gear and shit starts actually going down again, she relapses a bit. Not fully, she never goes back to where she was in Deathly Regiment, but she does some insanely reckless and arrogant things in this book, and breaks new rules in completely new ways. Not to mention, she definitely still fucks up. In fact, I would probably argue that the finale of Stars Above features one of her biggest fuck-ups yet, and that’s saying something. I also think Alexandra’s power level continues to evolve in a very interesting way that makes sense in the context of the world this story takes place in. She never feels overpowered, and even though she’s undeniably very good at magic by this point, she never has that sense of invulnerability that so many Harry Potter stories accidentally conjure (I’m looking at you, Poison Pen). Finally, I cannot talk about Alexandra without addressing her age. She is 14 at this book’s beginning, and turns 15 part way through it, which means, as I already mentioned earlier, this book properly introduces romance into the Alexandra Quick series. Not the cutesy stuff with David and Angelique from Deathly Regiment, or the comedic fake relationship subplot from Lands Below, but more serious romantic feelings developing between many of our main characters, and the fallout that that kind of thing can often cause. Also, as this is Alexandra we’re talking about, she takes something of an early interest in sex, because of course she does, and I just have to commend Inverarity on how he handled this. There was never a single moment when I felt weird or grossed out by the way he described characters of either sex, and I think Inverarity included exactly the right amount of sexual content for both Alexandra’s age and the tone of the story. It’s not prevalent, there’s nothing graphic, hell it’s not even implied that she ever goes that far in this one, but it’s there just the right amount to make sense for who she is in this book. I was also pleasantly surprised that Inverarity didn’t go for any of the obvious pairings in this book. The romance genuinely caught me off guard in that respect, which I really appreciated.
So that’s my standard Alexandra ramble out of the way, let’s get into some other characters. This book focuses a lot on Anna, Constance and Forbearance. Anna’s main arc involves stepping into a leadership role among her friends, and become more assertive and domineering. She really wants to help Alexandra out, but this conflicts with her now being the daughter of a congressman and having to keep up appearances, and this tension creates some absolutely stellar character growth in her. This also compliments Alexandra’s arc of being more comfortable opening up to her friends, and it all works really well. Also, Constance and Forbearance have distinct character traits now! There’s this whole arc where Forbearance gets into all this Ozarker lore about stars and powers, trying to predict Alexandra’s future, and Constance basically thinks it’s all a load of bullshit, and they have actual arguments and distinct characteristics, and it’s just wonderful. I’m as much a fan of the identical twins trope as the next guy, but it felt really gratifying to see Inverarity give them distinctions like this.
David is a bit less present in this one, but he was always the least interesting of Alexandra’s friends to me, probably because he was never as in the center of things as Alex, Anna, and the Pritchards were. He’s still charming, memorable, and often funny when he shows up tho. Also, there’s a new side character in this one: Sonja Rackham! After her name being used as the go-to “other girl in Alexandra’s grade” for the first two books, and being introduced as an actual person in the third one, she finally gets some character traits, and….she’s alright, I suppose. Not amazing or anything, but definitely fun enough. I found her memorable, if nothing else, so there’s that. Oh also Innocence is there, and once again, she’s entertaining enough. As a c-tier side character, she gets a surprising amount of depth, and while this may sound like a criticism, this book had enough shit going on in it. It’s good that Inverarity doesn’t give every character a giant arc every book, because otherwise the pacing would be fucked. It’s good that he knows who to focus on and when.
Alright so that’s about it for our protagonists. The adult characters are also all still there and I still like them. The Grimm sisters continue to be highlights for me. They both got a lot more depth this time around, and Dean Grimm in particular was shown to be very flawed in how she handled Alexandra near the end of the school year. I appreciate this, as it adds some flavor to her character. Also, Diana Grimm is a fucking badass, and we get to see that this time around. Abraham Thorn also returns once again, and he’s still fucking epic. I just don’t know how else to describe it. He’s powerful, he’s dangerous, it’s still ambiguous as to whether we should be rooting for him or not, and he has such a magnetic presence. He steals literally every scene he’s in, and I am using the word literally literally. Also, Claudia and Archie get actual scenes this time around! They’re central to one of the arcs, and I love it. Actually, while we’re on the subject, the Brian & Bonnie subplot finally paid off! I loved everything that went on with them, it was a seriously fantastic character moment.
Finally, we have to talk about our antagonists. The first one introduced is Darla’s younger sister, Mary Dearborn. She wants revenge for Alexandra’s role in Darla’s death, and….this subplot is alright, I suppose. It’s certainly entertaining enough, but I also felt like it was a bit stale feeling, and it didn’t really get proper resolution. I felt like a bit too much time was devoted to it with no good ending, while the far more interesting and intimidating villain — long-time character John Manuelito. He shows up in the second half of the book, and holy shit he’s amazing. Like seriously, I was terrified for Alexandra whenever the two of them were facing off. He had this fantastic, intimidating presence from beginning to end that just drew me in. In terms of presence, he’s the best villain the series has seen yet.
So if you can’t tell, I really like this book’s cast of characters. They’re memorable and balanced really well, and I just genuinely love reading about them. Unfortunately, in terms of most other things, this book is kind of all over the place. It has plot elements that are insanely strong, such as Alexandra’s visit to Dinétah and the mayhem that ensues there and the actual main Stars Above story, but I feel like it lacks a certain cohesion that the other books have. This book juggles about eight different subplots, but it can’t quite manages to tie everything together in the end. All of the individual storylines work on their own (for the most part), but it doesn’t feel satisfying to reach the end of the storyline, because it feels like there’s a missing narrative through-line. If it sounds like I’m being intentionally vague, that’s because I am, I’m trying really hard not to spoil anything.
Another thing I really like is the world-building. Stars Above expands a lot on previously introduced ideas such as Ozarker Lore and the conflict between Wizarding Colonials and Magical Native Americans, adding many layers to what we already knew, and introducing more nuance to make it all interesting and dynamic. We also learn even more about the Confederation’s shady dealings, and we get our first look at werewolves in Magical America. Finally, we see a lot more dark magic in this book, as well as learn a lot about a new power. The dark magic mostly comes from John’s conflict with Alexandra, and there is some fucked up and terrifying stuff introduced in this one. Inverarity does not play around with his dark magic, let me tell you. The power that we learn about is at the heart of the story. Think the Stars Above equivalent of Death in Deathly Regiment. It’s all fantastic, and it’s woven into the story really well.
One last bit of praise is that Stars Above has to grapple with a very difficult tonal balance, and it succeeds for the most part. This book has a few whacky ass twists in it that are pretty goofy if you stop to think about it, and it also spends a lot of time going dark. These are two tonal extremes that are very difficult to have to move back and forth between so many times, and Inverarity manages it admirably. Are there a few weird moments? Sure. But it mostly works.
Unfortunately, this bring’s me to my biggest issue by far with this book, and that is the pacing. Now don’t get me wrong, Alexandra Quick has always had a slow, deliberate feel to it. There’s a lot of buildup, and a lot of things being setup for future books, and it’s often a slow crawl to the climax. However, this book takes the cake. It is 39 chapters long, and you REALLY feel that extra length. I’m sorry, but this is just too much. This book has one or two subplots too many, and the whole thing feels off because of it. This is the only book in the series that I struggled to finish, and I’m sorry, but that’s a pretty big fucking issue. It doesn’t help that the climax is less satisfying cause it doesn’t bring everything together as cleanly as the previous endings have.
So overall, Alexandra Quick and the Stars Above is very good. It’s a substantial step down from the previous three books in the series, but it’s not bad by any means. It has fantastic characters and really interesting plot ideas, but it doesn’t quite come together in the right way. It balances its tone really nicely and expands on the world-building in new and inventive ways, but the pacing is a fucking all-over-the-place mess. However, at the end of the day, the good definitely outweighs the bad, and I do still really recommend checking this book (and the series it belongs to) out.
Tier: Great Tier