ADVANCED REVIEW: ‘A Dark and Hollow Star’ Falls Flat

Reading Time: 4 minutes

A Dark and Hollow Star - But Why Tho?

Content Warning: A Dark and Hallow Star and this review deal with mental health themes like depression and suicide

A Dark and Hollow Star is written by Ashley Shuttleworth and published by Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. A Dark and Hollow Star is a young adult fantasy novel and the first in a series of the same name.

A Dark and Hollow Star follows four main characters. Nausicaä Kraken, a former Fury exiled from her position for seeking revenge. Arlo Jarsdel, an ironborn (half-fae/half-human) struggling to find her place when she feels torn between two worlds. Aurelian Bessel, a lesidhe fae precariously balancing his duties as the retainer of Prince Vehan Lysterne and his feelings for Vehan. And finally, there’s Vehan Lysterne, the Crown Prince of the Seelie Court of Summer who’s battling depression and his duties as the Crown Prince.

There’s someone, or something, killing Ironborn children, and the High King of the Fae blames Nausicaä, the Dark Star. Nausicaä knows she’s many things, but not a child murderer. And as she fights to prove her innocence, she crosses paths with Arlo, Aurelian, and Vehan, who all have their own reasons for wanting to solve the murders.

A Dark and Hollow Star has an intriguing premise; murder mystery and urban fantasy, murder mystery, political intrigue, and court politics. And on top of all of that, representation in the form of queer characters. Unfortunately, Shuttleworth struggles with balancing all of the characters and worldbuilding with the actual plot.

Many times within A Dark and Hollow Star, Shuttleworth takes the reader out of the story by over-describing every detail. Often times, the reader is told about things rather than shown. A character would walk into a room, and immediately start listing off everything another character was wearing, or what the room looked like. And every time it feels clunky and unnatural. Providing enough detail for the reader to imagine the scene and the characters without bogging down the story is a balancing act. And sadly, Shuttleworth fails this balance. 

Much like the descriptions, the lore in A Dark and Hollow Star is overwhelming. Shuttleworth clearly has an entire elaborate world created. And that’s impressive. But Shuttleworth doesn’t let the world build naturally. A lot of the lore feels crammed in. It’s not that all of this information is irrelevant, some of it isn’t but much of it is. It’s that Shuttleworth just drops the information and moves on. Characters would just go on paragraphs long tangents about some part of Fae history or religion. Or even worse, they would start lecturing other characters. Shuttleworth’s worldbuilding needs work. 

The pacing of A Dark and Hollow Star is a mess. Shuttleworth has a lot of good ideas but drags the plot out with all of the info-dumping about characters and lore. Better descriptions or tightening up the writing would’ve vastly improved the pacing. As it is, the first 75% of the book drags along painfully slowly.  And even when the conflict comes to a head, there are multiple places where it feels natural for the book to end, only for there to be multiple chapters left.

Another issue in A Dark and Hollow Star is Shuttleworth’s characters. Outside of the four main protagonists, Shuttleworth struggles to utilize characters to their full potential. These side characters have a handful of exaggerated characteristics making them feel like caricatures. For example, there’s Arlo’s cousin, Prince Celadon Viridian. A flirt that doesn’t take most things seriously, he’s one of the only Fae that doesn’t treat Arlo like dirt.  His friendship with  Arlo gives him the potential to be so much more as a character but unfortunately, Shuttleworth doesn’t build upon that.

Even with the main protagonists, Shuttleworth doesn’t distinguish their unique voices for a good portion of the book. As each chapter is from the point of view of a different character, this is very obvious. Nausicaä and Arlo’s voices are different; Nausicaä is a snarky, confident badass, and Arlo is timid, nervous, and stressed out. But the same can’t be said for Vehan and Aurelian. Despite their very different personalities and stations in life, the first few chapters from Vehan and Aurelian’s POVs feel almost the same. By the end of A Dark and Hollow Star Shuttleworth begins to distinguish their voices more, and while it’s better late than never, the story does suffer because of it.

 A Dark and Hollow Star was a letdown. There are enjoyable elements such as Nausicaä’s personality and banter with other characters. And the romance set up between her and Arlo. But that couldn’t save the book. While they gave the story so much potential, the issues with information overload and superfluous detail outweighed these enjoyable elements.

Overall A Dark and Hollow Star was a chore to get through. Eventually, I sat down and powered through the last 50% because I just wanted it to be over. But I’m not ready to entirely write this series off just yet. Shuttleworth’s writing has potential. And I have hope that future books in the series will be better. I hope that Shuttleworth will find a better balance between worldbuilding and letting the story progress naturally. All of the pieces are there, they just need better execution. 

A Dark and Hollow Star will be available February 23rd, 2021 wherever books are sold.

A Dark and Hollow Star
2.5

TL;DR

Overall A Dark and Hollow Star was a chore to get through. Eventually, I sat down and powered through the last 50% because I just wanted it to be over. But I’m not ready to entirely write this series off just yet. Shuttleworth’s writing has potential. And I have hope that future books in the series will be better. I hope that Shuttleworth will find a better balance between worldbuilding and letting the story progress naturally. All of the pieces are there, they just need better execution.