Shield of Stars, by Hilari Bell, was published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster.
A former pickpocket, Weasel is the type of boy most people would avoid. Certainly, no one would ever trust him—except for one man. Justice Holis took Weasel off the streets, gave him a home, a job as his clerk, and a key to his house. Weasel’s new life may be a bit boring, but for the first time someone actually cares about him. Now Justice Holis is the one in trouble. Arrested for treason, he will surely hang unless someone saves him—and that someone can only be Weasel. But what can one boy do? Not much without help. So with a mysterious girl named Arisa by his side, weasel goes in search of the Falcon, the most dangerous bandit in Deorthas, but also the one person who would be able—and possibly willing—to stage a prison break. But Weasel’s fate changes when he stumbles upon a shield. Could this be the one said to have been lost for centuries, the one that bestows power on whoever holds it? If so, Weasel, once a lowly pickpocket, could be the most powerful person in the land.
I was pretty impressed by Shield of Stars. It’s relatively short, but Bell does a lot with the little that she has, and does it fairly well. It’s not as instantly gripping as I found Melina Marchetta’s Lumatere Chronicles, but it has a charm of its own that I found appealing.
Perhaps my biggest quibble with the book was the shield. I was left uncertain as to whether the shield was actually magical in itself or it was merely a symbol, granting figurative power rather than literal. It’s not made clear in the novel, although the characters speak of it as if it’s a magical object—yet when it’s found, nothing special happens beyond what one would expect if a lost treasure or symbol showed up again.
Beyond that, Shield of Stars is a well-crafted high fantasy; it’s well-written, the world is consistent even if the background and history of it is a little confusing, and the characters, while not incredibly original, are at least interesting. I enjoyed the “tarot card” reading and the way the cards revolve around the world and the plot.
However, it is a bit forgettable. That and my confusion over the shield is why I’m not rating it higher. Also, I found it hard to believe that the guards would let Weasel keep his penknife (quillknife), no matter how small the blade was.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Warnings: Some small violence.
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
She continued to search until she came up with a tin nothing. She held it over the center of the opening and dropped it. The soft clink sounded almost instantly.
“Not too far,” she said.
“It could still be far enough to break an ankle,” Weasel told her. “Particularly in the dark. And we don’t even know what we’d land on.”
A reckless grin transformed the girl’s plain face. “One way to find out.” She turned and slid her legs into the hole.
“Are you crazy?” Weasel demanded. “You don’t know what’s down there!”
I thought Shield of Stars was pretty impressive, even if in the end I found it a little forgettable and had some issues with consistency. But for the most part, Shield of Stars is focused, nicely crafted, has some cool bits of worldbuilding, and has enough appeal for me to get the next book—even if I’ll have to refresh myself on what went on.
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