________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 2. . . .September 13, 2013


Descendant. (A Starling Novel).

Lesley Livingston.
New York, NY: HarperTeen (Distributed in Canada by HarperCollins Canada), 2013.
325 pp., trade pbk. & Ebook, $17.99 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-0-06-206310-6 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-06-206312-0 (Ebook).

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



Flanked by guttering torches set in heavy iron sconces bolted to the rock walls, Mason saw a serpent, massive and coiled on a wide ledge, its muscled body undulating like a wave, scales rustling and shimmering with the movement. Its tail flicked restlessly back and forth as it slithered forward on the rock shelf, its evil-looking mouth opening wide. Sickly yellow venom dripped from its fangs, each droplet shattering the black-glassy surface of a dark pool below.

That was the sound Mason had heard.

What was worse . . . the next sound she heard was a soft, anguished groan.

Half-hidden by rocks that thrust up out of the ground like stout prison bars, Mason could just make out the shape of a man, lying on a bed of stone beneath the serpent’s ledge, surrounded by the pool. The snake’s body convulsed and propelled it forward until its head hovered directly over the place where the man lay. A single, viscous drop of poison gathered at the needle tip of one of the great snake’s fangs – the one positioned above the man’s face – and clung there for an infinite, torturous moment . . . before dropping, glittering like a tiny shard of broken yellow crystal, through the blood-dark air.

Mason couldn’t see the man’s face from where she stood, but she could certainly hear his cry of pure, piercing agony as the poison hit what was probably his cheek or forehead and he writhed and bucked, straining at the chains that bound him, wrists and ankles, to the slab. The howl of agony turned to a roaring bellow of rage, and the entire cavern shook. Yawning cracks shot up the walls on all sides, and bits of rock and dust rattled down all around Mason. It must have been the same ear-shattering cries that had caused the ground to open up beneath her feet moments earlier, sending her plunging into this horrible place.

After what seemed like forever, the wails faded once again to low moans. A last rattle of rocks cascaded down, landing right beside Mason, and she yelped and covered her head. At the noise she made, the man’s groans stopped abruptly, and she could almost sense him straining to hear if there was someone there. She held her breath.

“You’d think I would have grown used to it by now.” The man sighed raggedly, the breath panting in and out of his lungs.

Mason wasn’t sure if he was talking to her, but then it became apparent he was.

“Here,” he murmured gently, as if coaxing a frightened animal out of hiding. “Come here, child. I won’t hurt you.”

Mason froze.


Descendant is the second book in Lesley Livingston’s “Starling” trilogy, and it picks up the story with Mason in an eerie wasteland called Hel. The first thing she hears is her dead mother’s voice welcoming her to the Norse underworld. Mason recalls being in a train and crossing a bridge, but then there was an explosion and everything else is blank. At her mother’s urging, Mason sets out to find the Spear of Odin, understanding that the Spear is her only way to get back home.

     Once again, Livingston takes readers into a strange world filled with elements of Egyptian, Greek and Norse mythology against a backdrop of characters who inhabit modern-day Manhattan. Mason is in Asgard – the realm of Norse legend – and wants to leave as soon as possible. Fennrys realizes where she is and desperately hopes to rescue her, knowing that the Spear of Odin will set Mason up for more chaos than she can imagine. The action of the novel takes place both in the mythological and real worlds as Fenn is able to cross between the two in his effort to save Mason. Meanwhile, there are gods and goddesses at work in Manhattan as well, engaged in a power struggle which may only finish with the end of the world.

     Livingston has maintained the characters from the first novel, many of whom are students at Gosforth Academy. Mason is strong and fearless, ready to do battle with both real and unreal opponents in order to pursue her goals. Fenn is her male equivalent, a dark and brooding hero intent on helping his damsel in distress. The action of the novel revolves around the two of them, as does the romance which is central to the plot. Most other characters are minor and are used to advance the plot and help readers understand the tensions between the two main warring factions of the novel. Much of the unrest is caused by the parents of the young characters, thus the title Descendant hints that family secrets may be at play behind much of the action of the book, leaving Mason, Fenn and others merely pawns in a much larger family game.

     Fans of paranormal fantasy will enjoy the action and adventure which are evident on every page of the book as Mason and Fenn move from one place to another in their attempt to regain the real world. These adventures always include monsters and mythical beings, occasionally in human form, which are determined to thwart them. Chase scenes, strange creatures, darkness, fog and an unusual sort of sleeping sickness called Miasma are all part of the adventure as Livingston provides readers with a page-turning, theatrical story. Although Mason attains her goal of reaching the real world, nothing is truly solved at the end of the book, and the scene is set for the next book in the trilogy.

     Descendant is an action-thriller book with vivid descriptions which put readers into the harrowing settings faced by Mason and Fenn. The otherworldly settings are interesting; Manhattan is just an urban backdrop which could be anywhere. Mason and Fenn are stereotypical characters setting out on a quest and facing whatever dangers may be involved. The hero wants to rescue the lady who, in the end, is more than capable of taking care of herself.

      There is tension in the novel and romance as well, both of which will appeal to young adult readers, especially the young women to whom the novel appears to be directed. Unfortunately, they will have to wait until volume three of the trilogy to discover what finally happens to the two lovers and how their quest to save the world is resolved.


Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and high school teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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