Catching Stars by Cayla Keenan
Witch. Betrayal. Hunted.
Jayin Ijaad is in hiding. A witch with powerful abilities, she carves out a life for herself in the slums of Pavaal, a city rotting from the inside out. When an old acquaintance tracks her down, Jayin is dragged back into a world she tried to escape -- and is determined to escape again.
Maddix Kell is on the run. After two years in prison for crimes he did not commit, Maddix escapes and seeks out a legendary order of witchhunters who are his only chance to find justice.
But all is not as it seems and Maddix soon finds himself on the run from the people he sought as allies. When their paths collide, Jayin and Maddix must put aside their prejudices and forge an uneasy alliance that could crumble at any moment. But if they want to survive in Aestos -- a brutal kingdom where magic and corruption lie hand in hand and enemies lurk around every corner -- they must first survive each other.
An unprecedented number of chapters in this book end with the character losing consciousness.
I know that’s an odd way to begin a review, but stick with me here. It’s just one of the many ways Catching Stars irked me. I don’t typically notice patterns like that when I’m reading – I’m more of the sort of person to get pulled into the story and get annoyed with the characters or something like that. When something breaks the flow, I notice, and it crawls under my skin. The writer needs to be exceptional in some way afterwards to pull me back in.
Cayla Keenan just didn’t do it for me.
Catching Stars is getting a lot of five star reviews, and I’m really happy for her, and I wish her all the best with her future novels. The cover of this book is purple and has a witchy assassin vibe and I love it, but that’s about the extent of my love for the novel. Once I began noticing the chapter endings, I began noticing other little, annoying things as well.
What we’re promised is an unlikely alliance between a fugitive and a witch. Both are on the run, trying to escape their own demons, when they crash into one another and realise that they’ll be safer together. It’s also got the edge of one of those comedy shows where you’ve got two unlikely roommates living together and gosh darn what sorts of hijinks will almost tear them apart this week?
I don’t feel like this really captured what the book was about.
The book was more about one guy who hates witches and wants to eradicate all of them in a genocide, and one witch who packs up her entire life and runs away when she is summoned to track the guy after he escapes from prison. They find each other pretty quickly, then he feels bad and releases her from the witchhunter camp, which means the witchhunters are chasing after both of them across the entire kingdom. They save one another’s lives multiple times and for the most part the guy (Maddix) completely forgets his life goal was mass witch genocide and they tease eachother and get on fine. That, and they keep trying to run towards their attackers before running away and passing out. Over and over again.
I felt like I was watching a twenty-minute show on loop, they’ve just changed the places and the situations a bit. For a good 85% of the book, there was absolutely no progress. I thought about DNF-ing this book several times, but I own it in hardcopy (bonus Owlcrate book FTW!) and it’s a debut so I kept hoping it would turn around and get better.
But for me, it didn’t. I just kept finding more things I didn’t like.
Things like the lack of atmosphere. Every once and a while, Keenan would get so close to building atmosphere (usually in Jayin’s chapters) and then bam! Someone would be throwing knives or shooting arrows and we’d run away, then pass out, end of chapter.
It was so close, I could almost touch it.
There were moments in the Gull, or on the ship, or in the underground tunnels where I thought finally! We’re going to settle down for a minute! But we never did. Keenan runs the same gambit over and over again and we’re not in one place long enough to get a sense of it, beyond what it told to us in the dialogue.
Which brings me to my next point. In general, there was way too much talking and too little action. I think that Keenan tried to counter this by making sure all the action was high action fight scenes, but in the end, I was just annoyed. Nothing even as simple as sitting down for food. I don’t think they ate after the first 80 pages.
Books need more food! Especially journey books, and books where the main characters keep getting hurt and need to heal. If you’re not doing well, you need nutrients! Plus, it’s important to remember as a writer to feed to all your reader’s senses, which I feel Keenan failed to do. A lot of auditory, but nothing else.
I don’t know, guys. What’s sad is that if you got me at a cafe over a steaming mug of cocoa, I could go on for a while about the different aspects of this book that bothered me. Great potential in worldbuilding that was never expanded. Characters with interesting possibilities that ultimately dried up as flat stereotypes in YA. I want to fall in love with magic-steeped fantasies because they are my absolute favorite and this one failed to impress.
If you’re looking for a fast-paced fantasy in a magical setting that will be more of a light read, with a little dialogue about racism, you may enjoy Catching Stars. If you’re looking for a deeper fantasy story more in line with Cinda Williams Chima’s Seven Realms or A Game of Thrones, this book may not be what you’re looking for.
Catching Stars Goes to the Graveyard
This novel definitely wasn’t a good fit for my tastes, and having barely got through it the first time, I don’t believe I will be reading it again. It’s a little too my dialogue for what I like in a fantasy book, so I’ll be passing it forward to my local library for other readers to enjoy.