Of Starlight and Plague by Beth Hersant

Stars: 1 out of 5

DNF at 52%

I know that zombie books aren’t a paragon of high literature. I expect that. But when I pick up one, I expect to be entertained at least. This is the first boring zombie book I’ve ever read, so that must be a record. I picked it up because it has a bunch of 4 and 5 star reviews on Goodreads, and now I am honestly baffled. Were we reading the same book? Was there a particular lens I forgot to put on before I started this? I came for mindless zombie fun, what I got instead is a poorly written snooze fest. 

I think the biggest problem here is that the characters are skin deep. Granted, I don’t expect great characterization in a zombie book, since most of them will be zombie appetizer, but I expect to have one or two main characters that I can follow through the story. I need to have somebody I can associate myself with and see the world through their eyes. 

Here, we have no such thing. The two people responsible for the plague die by end of part 1. Which is a shame, because it would have been an interesting story to follow them through the pandemic. To see them realize the horror of what they have unleashed and do everything in their power to stop it before the world is destroyed. It’s a wasted opportunity and it’s such a shame.

Then we have Tammany, an old wise mambo in New Orleans. She seemed interesting and had at least a little depth to her character, even if most of that depth was full of  clichés about voodoo practitioners.  But her story was cut short by the end of part 2. 

By the time I decided to part ways with the book, we were introduced to yet another smart old lady who was planning on surviving the plague with her family. That felt redundant. Why not just continue with Tammany? Why introduce a whole new character, when they serve exactly the same purpose. The story of survival would have been in a swamp in New Orleans in Louisiana instead of a farm up north, but it would have served the same purpose. As it stands, that’s yet another character that has to be introduced, yet another conflict that has to be set up from the beginning. 

And that’s another problem with this book. Since the author has to set up so many characters, the action constantly jumps back and forth in time. We get to the inevitable “zombie” outbreak from the point of view of one character… then we switch to the very beginning of the story again for the next one and follow them to the same precise moment of the outbreak again. Rinse and repeat. This made me feel like the story is just spinning its wheels without going anywhere. And if a story isn’t going anywhere, I eventually loose all interest in it. 

Or the author introduces a character just as they get killed or loose their soul to the New Rabbis then backtracks a few days or weeks to show us how they got there. Problem is, we already know that character is zombie food (or zombie themselves), so why invest time in making an emotional connection with them by learning their story? We won’t be following them for long. 

And what about this irritating way all characters have to quote scientific journals or other sources in their conversations or even in their thoughts? Who, in their right mind does that? Who stops in the middle of their dream to explain a term that she’d known since she was a child? A term that is part of her culture? Yes, that term might be confusing for the reader at first, but most of us are smarter than an average monkey. We can figure out what it means based on the context. Explaining it so blatantly in the text does two things – it insults the reader’s intelligence and it immediately pulls them out of the story because it sticks out like a sore thumb.

Same with incessant quotations of scientific articles and research. I get that the author did her research and is proud of it, but why make your characters shove it down my throat in every conversation? If only one character did that, it would have been a quirk and an interesting layer to their character, no matter how strange, but they all do that. The neuroscientists quote medical journals at each other. Wouldn’t they have read them independently if they are so good at their job? Tammany quotes voodoo research… which is even more weird. Why would a mambo read research done into her religion by outsiders anyway?

All this made for a very frustrating and boring read. This book had potential. But it needs a good developmental editor to unearth that potential out of the confusing heap of dirt the story is right now.

PS: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

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