- Alistair Braidwood
Call Me Ishbel: A Review Of Moira McPartlin’s Star Of Hope…
When you come to a trilogy at the end it can feel like you have missed too much to truly understand what’s going on. I can’t imagine seeing the The Godfather III without having seen I & II first, or, gawd help us, The Matrix Revolutions before The Matrix. However, that’s not always the case, and the best books and films in any series should work individually as well as part of the series, with the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy books, or Krzysztof Kieslowski’s ‘Three Colours’ films, being perfect examples.
After reading Moira McPartlin’s Star Of Hope, the final part of her ‘Sun Song Trilogy’, without having read the first two I can say that it passes the test of working as a stand-alone but one which also makes you want to spend more time with the characters, to discover fully how they, and their world, got to this point. If one of the characteristics of a good writer is to make you care, then Moira McPartlin does that in spades.
That’s partly because it’s a story that is all too believable – and terrifying. Set in the dystopian near future of 2089, Star Of Hope is close enough for many of its themes and concerns to be all too recognisable. Concerns over artificial intelligence, the distant between the have and have-nots (in this case the ‘Privileged’ and the ‘Natives’), genetics, the plight of the bees, and what happens when the lights go out, are all central to the story.
As with many such fictional worlds they increasingly feel like predictions rather than prose. In that sense Star Of Hope is similar in tone to Louise Welsh’s No Dominion, the third of her ‘Plague Times Trilogy’ in that both are about a final mission, or in this case missions, with groups travelling across the land. Along the way they encounter ever-increasing dangers, double-crossing, and death. Long-held beliefs are challenged and no-one reaches the end unchanged.
In Star Of Hope the story is mostly told in alternative chapters which focus on 16-year-old Sorlie and his aunt Ishbel. They undertake separate missions to find the legendary ‘Star Of Hope’ which, we are told, holds the key to returning to a better life, one which will benefit all and not just the few. Without giving anything away, while this proposed solution is not necessarily what you might expect, the world they encounter is just recognisable enough to believe that this possible world is worryingly probable.
Creating such a familiar world for her characters to inhabit allows McPartlin to have some fun with place and language. There is a visit to ‘Beckham City’, when people frown their eyebrows “pringle”, (a perfect image which I intend to use in future), messages are ‘pinged’ to each other, and there are lots of rumour and myth about the history of technology before the servers went down which emphasise just how, and how quickly, this world became the way it is.
There are no frivolities, nothing unnecessarily sensational, to sidetrack the reader. Sorlie and Ishbel’s missions are deadly serious, with nothing less than the very future at stake. But this is not the worthy and finger-wagging undertaking that it could have been. Sorlie and Ishbel are characters you care about, and I can only think this will be strengthened for those who have been with them from the start. However, there are plenty of other strong characters to invest in, from the taciturn and increasingly complex ‘Dawdle’, the damaged and confused ‘Noni’, the Machiavellian ‘Merj’, and the dependable ‘Reinya’. It’s a fine cast which gives not only the journey but its end a power it wouldn’t have otherwise had.
The final scenes are worthy of a Sam Peckinpah movie (or John Wick, for a more recent comparison), with bullets and bodies flying around and no-one sure what is going on. It’s a suitably dramatic ending to a novel which builds the tension right from the start and which never lets up (with a couple of notable and memorable beats for everyone to catch their breath). It’s one of the most exciting bits of writing I have read in some time, and a fitting conclusion.
Young Adult fiction, (or at least fiction with young people at its core), is thriving in Scotland – with some publishers having their own YA imprint, which speaks well for the future as well as the present. Recently memorable examples include Ross Sayer’s Mary’s The Name (his latest Sonny & Me is out now), Helen MaKinven’s Talk Of The Toun, Claire McFall’s Ferryman and Daniel Shand’s Crocodile, and Moira McPartlin’s Star Of Hope belongs in that company. Does it all end well? You’ll have to find that out for yourself, but it’s a journey well worth making.
Moira McPartlin’s Star Of Hope is published by Fledgling Press