Genre-typical descriptions of blood, violence, murder and torture.
– Fun read
– Surprisingly self-aware
– Surprisingly nuanced
– Varied cast, characterized reasonably well
– Some decent banter between Amora and Bastion
– Excellent twist
– Weak beginning (that the author is clearly rushing through!)
– Generic voice
– Amora isn’t particularly distinguishable from other YA heroines
– Writing weighed down by too many odds and ends; too many redundant lines
– Lots of little telling over showing bits
There’s a fun story here, but the opening chapters try rather hard to convince the reader otherwise.
I almost wrote off All the Stars and Teeth as another forgettable YA Fantasy during the opening chapters. Beginning chapters are supposed to both set up the plot and—in the case of YA—immediately draw the reader into the new world. All the Stars and Teeth‘s sucked. These chapters are dull, unnecessarily long for the little information we receive from them and very clearly forced. They read as though Grace is getting the set-up out of the way as quickly and messily as possible. It’s a shame she opted for a rather dull opening when the option to lead in with something like, “The first time I helped my father with an execution, I was five.” Like, damn, To Kill a Kingdom‘s convinced people it’s worth more than kindling with a memorable opening. What’s Grace doing kidding around with something weak like “This day is made for sailing.”
That line lulls people to sleep.
All the Stars and Teeth transforms into a new book entirely in the fifth chapter, when Grace incorporates Bastion fully into the narrative. Bastian’s arrival heeds not only the coming of proper adventure and the meat of the story, but also the part of the book Grace seems to genuinely enjoy writing. All the Stars and Teeth becomes fun, at last. Besides some lively banter with Amora, Bastian’s arrival brings with him his ship, NAME, and access to new locations and adventure. It’s a bit point-and-click, go-here-do-that, but Amora and crew get things done, discover truths and accomplish things. All the Stars and Teeth is well-rounded, but a bit by the numbers: There are some good fights along the way, where Grace makes use of Amora’s unique magical abilities, as well as some quiet moments with various members of the cast and some great twists to seal the deal. Fun and a decent way to pass the time, but nothing ground-breaking.
Grace has put effort into making Visidia stand out visually, with descriptions of luminous flora, and some clear thought was put into the different islands and how their individual cultures relate to their magical abilities, but we never really get to see them utilized or explored fully. The same can be said for the magic system: there is clearly a lot of thought put into it, but we don’t see as much of it as we could for what we’re asked to learn about it.
Despite a cast of enjoyable characters, Amora is the least original of the bunch. As the protagonist of her own story, she’s absolutely fine—better than average even! Amora moves the plot forward, sets goals and plans to achieve those goals, steps up when she needs to and grows as a character. She has a special magic, but it has both logical limits and a sensible origin—an origin that adds depth to the narrative. As important as those elements are, Amora still feels like Grace simply bought an off-the-shelf Average YA Fantasy Heroine and added a few touches of her own rather than building the character from the ground up.
The rest of the cast really shone and rounded the adventure out. First, of course, is Bastian, the sort-of -pirate and Amora’s romantic interest. He was a good counterpoint for Amora. They had some really fun banter, but their shared passion for Visidia really made them click. I also appreciated that they could have some serious, rational conversations about their relationship and its complications without getting ridiculous about it.
Ferrick and Vataea complete the adventuring quartet. Ferrick is Amora’s fiancé, and while their interactions make it clear they’re not a strong match for each other, Ferrick is not villainized, which is an easy route many authors have taken before. He’s fleshed out surprisingly well, trying to do his best for the situation he’s stuck in; never hating Amora but often wishing she’d realize she wasn’t the only one stuck in an engagement neither of them asked for. Vataea is a mermaid, and a genuinely fun one at that. She’s got a spunky personality and some helpful mermaid magic to lend to the cause—not for free, of course.
Told in first person, present tense from solely Amora’s point of view, All the Stars and Teeth‘s writing style was a bit exhausting but readable enough to skim. Grace writes with a modern, snappy style that says all the right things to move the story forward. The struggle is that the good prose is in there, but she’s weighed it down with tons of extraneous thats and mades in addition to tons of telling-over-showing sentences. These sentences add nothing and only state the painfully obvious.
Possibly the biggest problem with the writing is Amora’s “voice.” I’m unsure how much is Amora’s and how much is simply Grace’s style, but it’s painfully, agonizingly generic. I couldn’t pick it out of a line-up. Hopefully—as this is a debut novel—Grace will refine her style over time.
Themes and Representation—★★★☆☆
All the Stars and Teeth often deals with the trials of leadership and becoming a good rule and with righting wrongs—particularly those wrongs committed by those who came before us.
Amora is a character of colour, described as having copper skin and dark curls, but she is not distinctly aligned with any real-world culture.
I’m conflicted about how I feel about what appears to be a budding romance between Vataea and Ferrick. Vataea is the only confirmed LGBT+ character in the main cast. (Yuriel, Amora’s cousin, is certainly flashy and flamboyant, but that’s also ingrained in the culture around his style of magic.) I’m torn between “any LGBT+ character is better than no LGBT+ character” and, well, how the whole thing is handled. Vataea is recently free from captivity, says herself she enjoys being with women—and it’s implied she only has been with women—but starts having a lot of interactions with and about Ferrick, a sort of “softer” male character. Between treading dangerously near the old trope of “lesbian just needs to find the right man” and how easy it is to delete those couple lines, I’m unsure how to feel.
While I don’t think it’s destined to be the next big thing, All the Stars and Teeth is incredibly fun, Amora and Bastion have a great dynamic and the whole thing has a broad appeal. Adalyn Grace does promising work for a debut author, but this is still very much a debut book. With cleaner prose and some creative confidence, she can really go places.