Reviewed by Kristen Valentine
Every novel is a little world unto itself. That’s the fun of reading fiction, right? No matter which book you pick up, you’re guaranteed a trip to a reality that only exists within those pages, but for the most part writers don’t have to describe that reality from scratch. That’s where fantasy authors have to work a whole lot harder in order to shine. In The Stars Were Right, K.M. Alexander does just that as he introduces us to the gritty desert city of Lovat, a place so strange that it could only exist in the imagination, but vivid enough to be real.
Waldo Bell makes his living as a caravan master, guiding shipments through the dusty, perilous badlands that surround the city. He’s just returned from an expedition at the start of the novel, and — dirty, hungry, and exhausted — all he wants to do is kick back and relax, enjoying all the comfort and convenience Lovat has to offer. But the stars have something else planned for Wal: only hours after arriving home, he suddenly finds himself accused of the bizarre, ritualistic murders of two old friends. Grief-stricken and bewildered, Wal has no choice but to go on the run to prove his innocence, a quest that takes him from the upper levels of high society down into the bowels of the city, encountering cultists, betrayal, and quite a bit of violence on the way.
Part thriller, part urban fantasy, The Stars Were Right is a wild tour through a wild city. The mystery is compelling and Waldo Bell is an affable narrator, but the real heart is the city of Lovat. The setting leaps off the page from the very beginning as Alexander describes the diverse, tangled metropolis, where humans and other species live on top of one another, literally.
“Nine levels stretching skyward. Five hundred meters high at its apex. Each level housing buildings of various sizes sagged on the backs of the buildings below it. The light of thousands of sodium lamps twinkled from its recesses. Lovat was the oldest and largest city on the coast, and it showed its age by the haphazard mess it had become. Roads rose and ripped, elevators and staircases criss-crossed, and floors would end and then begin across the city, leaving large empty spaces between levels.”
The city is a complex mix of old-world traditions and modern problems, a place with its own rich history, danger, class and culture conflicts, drug trade (a substance called pitchfork, somewhat similar to the gruesome krokodil that’s been in the news lately, is heavily abused in the lower levels of the city). Alexander does great work here with his vibrant description of Lovat. The city is fantastical but credible, and wholly fascinating — and it’s a place that I wouldn’t mind visiting again.
Sound like something you’d enjoy reading? Buy your own copy of The Stars Were Right at Amazon.