All the Stars and Teeth, Adalyn Grace (Imprint 978-1-250-30778-1, $17.99, 384pp, hc) February 2020.
Adalyn Grace opens All the Stars and Teeth on a day of great importance for her protagonist, Princess Amora Montara. The princess is about to participate in her ‘‘performance,’’ the event during which she will prove herself worthy of the crown of Visidia. As Amora goes about her day in the early chapters, readers learn that she is engaged to a pleasantly appropriate but thoroughly unremarkable young man; she longs to command a ship, which makes sense as her kingdom is comprised of a series of islands, but she is not permitted the freedom to embrace such a challenge. And, while she is nervous about her performance, she is committed to making her parents, whom she loves, proud and doing what is necessary to protect and serve her kingdom. Basically, this is a princess acting exactly as a princess should act.
At the performance, Amora must show her subjects that she can be High Animancer, the master of souls. Then her aunt mistakenly reveals a great secret to her and Amora enters the ceremony with her mind in complete disarray. In front of the crowd, she succeeds in proving her magic but then fails spectacularly when she loses control of it. That lack of control is a big problem because Amora can read the truth within a person’s soul and then, when she allows the magic within her to rise up, she can kill; she can kill in really disturbing ways.
It’s a big problem when the killing at the performance ends up being particularly horrifying. Amora loses control, scares the crap out of everybody, and finds herself at the mercy of her country’s laws. Placed in the royal dungeon, she might have to forfeit her life. Then a pirate shows up and offers her a way out. (Spoiler alert: she takes it.)
The most important thing about All the Stars and Teeth is the worldbuilding. Everything else: the ripping plot, intriguing characters and artful doses of humor and romance, all hinge on what Grace creates with the sprawling kingdom of Visidia. Each of the islands embraces a different type of magic: soul, enchantment, elemental, time, restoration (healing), levitation, mind communication, and, on the banished island of Zudoh, cursing. You can only practice one type of magic in the kingdom, and if you seek more than that you potentially condemn everyone to the return of a fearsome beast whose looming threat dominates their collective history. As Amora finds herself forced to flee the royal island of Arida and throw her trust behind her pirate/rescuer, she does not expect to learn more about her kingdom – she doesn’t think there is more to learn about her kingdom. As Grace takes readers from one beguiling destination to another and her travelers (Amora, the pirate, and her surprisingly loyal fiancé), uncover a cavalcade of secrets, the kingdom reveals itself to be a far darker legacy than Amora ever imagined. The biggest problem she has to worry about might not be the mythical monster or even her own bloodthirsty power, but rather the simple truth of what her parents have not told her and the life-or-death worries of her many distant subjects.
All the Stars and Teeth is, in some ways, a traditional adventure fantasy. There is magic and treachery, monsters and mermaids, hidden doors and desperate promises. In general terms, this novel is exactly what you expect it to be. That is not to suggest that it is pedestrian or typical, for Grace writes with such gleeful joy and excitement; she embraces in a very big way this world she has created and the bold, brazen characters who fill it. The surprises she does pack the pages with – hold on tight, but the female protagonist actually gets her period while running for her life! – are wonderful. I was onboard with the magic and the pirate and the sailing, but when the mermaid showed up and the den of iniquity and all the dark cursing, well those moments made me fall in love. All the Stars and Teeth is the start of a great duology, a trip on the light fantastic to an audacious and compelling new world.
Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and more like it in the June 2020 issue of Locus.
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