An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows. ★★★★
An Accident of Stars is a queer feminist portal fantasy told from the point of views of four female characters. Saffron is a high school student in Australia who follows a strange woman through a portal and enters another world, Kena. While born on earth, Gwen has been traveling to Kena for over thirty years and considers it home. She even became involved in local politics and made an unwise choice in supporting a man called Leoden in his bid for the throne. Now Gwen and her allies are hunted by him, including Zech, the adopted granddaughter of an exiled matriarch, and Viya, Leoden’s runaway consort.
An Accident of Stars hits a lot of high points for me. For one, it has a greater focus on the relationships between female characters than almost any fantasy novel I’ve seen. I particularly loved the mentor/student relationship between Gwen and Saffron. While the official blurb frames Saffron as the protagonist, I think that’s belittling the role played by the other POV characters. Saffron serves as a clear reader insert but all four women have their own story lines and no one receives the clear majority of page time.
I also enjoyed the world building of An Accident of Stars. It has that vivid quality that makes the world practically leap off the page. While it’s not as strange or otherworldly as some fantasies I’ve read, Meadows did put thought into making Kena unique and different from the rest of the SFF section of the bookstore. For instance, the primary social ties in Kena are based around polyamorous marriages, which plays a role in the political intrigue. All in all, An Accident of Stars feels fresh and original.
There’s also a huge amount of diversity to the book’s cast. Gwen is the first explicitly, the-word-is-used, aromantic protagonist I’ve encountered. Saffron also explicitly identifies herself as bisexual, which seems to be considered the norm for Kena. Beyond orientation, Gwen’s a middle aged black woman who is amazingly badass and gets to carry large parts of the story and Kena itself consists mainly of brown skinned people.
Unlike a lot of the big name recent fantasy series, An Accident of Stars is not grimdark. That doesn’t mean that there’s not pain and suffering – Saffron encounters some pretty quickly upon her arrival to Kena, and the battle scenes are harrowing sequences that scar the protagonists both physically and mentally. However, for all that An Accident of Stars never has the unrelenting darkness of grimdark fantasy. Our protagonists are not anti-heroines but heroines. They may be flawed, but at heart they are good people who I grew to like and care about.
This isn’t to say that An Accident of Stars is without its flaws. While functional, the plotting was never compelling and the story lacked a sense of urgency. Leodan was not an interesting villain. We’re told of some of the horrible things he’s done, but for the most part he just feels bland. On the other hand, his consort Kadeja establishes herself as a dangerous character from her very first scene. Still, the ending of the book gives me hope that the plotting could amp up in future installments. The only other grievance I have to point out is that Saffron sometimes felt like a vehicle for worldbuilding info dumps.
The ending of An Accident of Stars left me much more emotional than I would have suspected upon the beginning, thanks to a surprise plot twist that I honestly did not see coming and that leaves me yearning for the second book. An Accident of Stars is one of the most promising starts to any series right now, and I can’t wait to see where it goes.
I received an ARC of An Accident of Stars from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.