When Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole in reality, she finds herself trapped in Kena, a magical realm on the brink of civil war.
There, her fate becomes intertwined with that of three very different women: Zech, the fast-thinking acolyte of a cunning, powerful exile; Viya, the spoiled, runaway consort of the empire-building ruler, Vex Leoden; and Gwen, an Earth-born worldwalker whose greatest regret is putting Leoden on the throne. But Leoden has allies, too, chief among them the Vex’Mara Kadeja, a dangerous ex-priestess who shares his dreams of conquest.
Pursued by Leoden and aided by the Shavaktiin, a secretive order of storytellers and mystics, the rebels flee to Veksh, a neighboring matriarchy ruled by the fearsome Council of Queens. Saffron is out of her world and out of her depth, but the further she travels, the more she finds herself bound to her friends with ties of blood and magic.
Can one girl – an accidental worldwalker – really be the key to saving Kena? Or will she just die trying?
The most interesting thing about An Accident of Stars was the way in which the story is told both from the perspective of the teenaged Saffron going through a portal for the first time (and, of course, not finding what books like Narnia and Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz promised) and from the perspective of Gwen, a woman in her fifties who is now a veteran of "worldwalking" and people who travel between worlds are known in the book. On the one hand, Saffron has an almost standard reaction to being in a fantasy world, although her thoughts are more culturally sensitive than some of the older works would have been. On the other hand, Gwen understands what Saffron is going through but from a standing of "been there, done that" as well as a standing of much greater maturity and world experience, tells the story from a different view. If Saffron is the main character, Gwen is watching the story and putting things into context that Saffron can't (immediately).
That said, Gwen is certainly still one of the protagonists, watching the story while being a part of it. Which is ironic given the religious sect based around doing just that. And is kind of meta when you start to think about things which are spoilers.
The third protagonist is Zech, a girl more or less both Kenan and Vekshi (details being spoilers) who gets involved first with Saffron when the Earth girl is lost and alone in a strange world, and then in larger world events. Zech was cool and I liked that despite her being 14 and two years younger than Saffron, the two were able to be friends without age mattering too much (except for spoilers).
This was a very enjoyable read. I'm not sure I'd call it fun because a lot of bad things happen to Saffron. Bad things which are pretty par for the course in fantasy books, but which become extreme trauma when put into the context of happening to an average contemporary Earthling teenager. I liked the way the book highlighted how horrible some fantasy tropes are when not normalised by all the characters they're happening to. Like how traumatic a short battle can be, for example. Overall, I didn't have any complaints except maybe that sometimes Saffron's inner thoughts were more socially aware than I would have expected, but not implausibly so.
The book ended a little abruptly and with very little having been resolved. I am very keen to read the next book and I'm hoping I won't have to wait too long. The publisher's website indicates that it's coming in May, so not too long away. I highly recommend An Accident of Stars to fans of portal fantasy and to any readers looking for a feminist fantasy read.
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: 2016, Angry Robot
Series: The Manifold Worlds book 1 of ?
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge