This post is a cheeky sort of participating in the last day of #KidBookBingo organised and hosted by @AnnalieseAvery on Twitter. Every day in April 2019 there was an opportunity to post a review of the book of the day.
This gorgeously mysterious and imaginative story takes the concept of communicating and travelling between Parallel universes and spins it into a mystery adventure with such a perfect vintage 1930s and 1940s feel you can almost taste it.
I highly encourage you to take a trip into Tess’ world.
One night a man on the run settles a baby outside the building placing with her a device that carries the wearer through space into different parallel worlds.
Years later, Tess is an engineer fascinated by science and spends her free time exploring things in her own makeshift lab in the basement of the foundling home that she lives in happy comfort.
One day she is called to the office and told the truth of how she came to the Foundling home and incredibly that a distant relative has left her the heir to his fortune and Mr Cleats, her new legal guardian, is ready to sweep her away.
In her seclusion at the new Manor-like home she discovers the properties of the device she was left causing things to become both clearer and murkier at the same time, and much more dangerous with Mr Cleats and the nasty Mrs Thistleton having plans for the parallel worlds.
‘Simply say the word Quicksilver and I will know you need help. Do you understand?’
The emotional heart of this story is compelling. I loved the way O’Hart twists the little orphan trope and instead of Miss Hannigan type vileness we see a genuine love and affection and a fierce parental emotion from the two women who run the foundling home.
This clever twist on a child’s luck changing when they leave the ‘orphanage’ gives much more interesting character and flavour to the plot. Instead of being indulged and pampered Tess’ struggle and emotional abandonment at the hands of her guardian and his staff propel her determination to change things and find the truth which is far more powerful.
‘Some people think there are universes wrapped up together like balls of string, and some scientists postulate that there are universes which fit together something like a jigsaw puzzle only in dimensions we can’t even conceive of.’
I utterly adored Sliders as a child which was a tv programme where after a science experiment a group of young adults would slide between alternate realities trying to find their way back to their own. There is so much to play with when you have alternate timelines whether you consider and my favourite by far would be historical differences. I adore alternative history stories and essays as there is so much possibility in changing the course of human destiny.
So you can imagine I was so excited that the SFF in The Star-spun Web revolves around parallel universes and the ability to move between them.
Further you can guess that I was excited to see a historical context too!
It’s got a strange portentous feel as whilst it’s set in 1941 within the world Tess lives there’s no World War II/ The Emergency as it was known in the Republic Of Ireland (but it is occurring in other worlds) and although historically the ‘correct name’ King it’s not Britain.
Interestingly it’s the Breternian Isles, if not the whole of Ireland then ‘Dublin’ at least is part of it and the capital city is Cardiff- I loved the creativity of that and the way the world building is slipped in with snatches of newspapers or conversations rather than information dumps- it’s very naturalistic and whilst we accept and it’s very strong world building you can almost taste the furniture polish and dust motes the glimpses adds to a permeating sense of not entirely knowing that Tess herself is experiencing.
Thomas slumped against the observatory roof. Dublin lay there, twinkling in the darkness, filled with thousands of sleeping people and there was nothing he could do.
In a gorgeous opportunity for literary tourism Sinéad has created Dublin in a parallel universe with streets and landmarks given different names because of the deviations in the history that has led to that universe being.
In fact the context of Thomas’ world is our own (or as close to it as possible) and events towards the end of the novel are a reimagining of a real event in Dublin during what was called ‘The Emergency’ giving it an interesting educational factor when O’Hart expands in the author notes.
Overall, The Star Spun Web is a fantastic adventure story that appeals on several levels and has a universal appeal in its gumption and imagination.
The Star-Spun Web by Sinéad O’Hart is published by Stripes and available online and from good bookshops.