The City Beneath the Hidden Stars (Sonya Kudei)

The City Beneath the Hidden Stars is the first novel by Sonya Kudei.
Finished on: 2.9.2022
[I won this book in a LibraryThing Early Reviewer give-away.]

Leo Solar is a star daimon with a debt to clear. And much to his chagrin, he has to clear it in Zagreb – to him, the most boring place in the entire universe, and maybe beyond. But it is here that the Black Queen threatens to re-appear and rule over the city with her dark magic once again. That, unfortunately, is Leo’s responsibility. But Leo isn’t the only one to take up the fight, though he is arguably the person with the best hair to do so. With fearsome creatures that belong to the Black Queen having already infiltrated the city, time is running out to do something.

The City Beneath the Hidden Stars is a quirky, humorous novel that is very entertaining, despite some debut bumps. I definitely enjoyed it and the fact that we got a setting outside the English speaking world.

The book cover showing a figure wearing a coat that looks a bit like a moth in front of a starry night sky.

Zagreb really takes center stage in this novel, maybe even ousting Leo as the protagonist. Kudei hails from Zagreb herself, and her love for the city and its trams, as well as her frustrations really shines through the text. The story itself also draws on Croatian lore. I am not familiar enough with that to make any comment on it, but I liked that it is something different from the usual folklore and fairy tales we get in (English language) fantasy novels.

Apart from the setting, I really enjoyed the wry tone of the novel. Every once in a while I thought that Kudei was trying a little too hard with the jokes, but overall it works very well and had me grinning with its overblown similes and metaphors. Plus, Leo himself is simply an awesome character and a thoroughly flawed hero in a really amusing way.

There are some things that didn’t work so well. When we get to the showdown, things seem a little too chaotic, with players turning up at the last second that were never mentioned before and other things lost out of sight (what happened to the snake, for example?). I felt like the novel would have maybe needed a little more clean-up there. Some plot points also feel a little too convenient and stretch credibility a little.

But it didn’t hurt the book too much, and I found the ending definitely entertaining enough. It was also nice to read a simple stand-alone story again. It feels like it’s been a while as most fantasy publications seem to come in series form. Which I like, too, don’t get me wrong, but there is something to be said for a story that is done in a single book.

In any case, I will gladly remain on the look-out for more of Kudei’s work when it comes, but for now, I can congratulate her on a fine debut.

Summarizing: good fun.

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