Impossible tasks, banished magicians, the meaning of family, and deepest betrayals blend in this Cybils nominee.
The Last Fallen Star
by Graci Kim
Rick Riordan Presents, 2021
Read from library copy.
This new series starter from the Rick Riordan Presents line takes us to a community hidden inside the ordinary Korean neighborhoods of Los Angeles. Riley Oh has grown up as a non-magic person in a tight-knit community of Korean witches known as the Gifted Clans. Her family’s clan, the Gom clan, are all talented healers and followers of the Cave Bear goddess, able to use their skills with their careers in the mundane world. Riley’s efforts not to care that she’ll never be initiated are quickly hidden, though, when her slightly older sister Hattie offers to use a forbidden spell to share her own magic with Riley during her, Hattie’s initiation ceremony. With magic of her own, she’d surely be fully accepted into the clan.
Except of course things go wrong. So wrong that it threatens the home that Riley hadn’t even considered might be at risk. And as she tries to figure out what to do next, things get even worse (avoiding spoilers here), leaving Riley and her best friend Emmett to meet the Bear Goddess in person, trusting that if Riley follows her directions, they’ll be able to fix everything.
There used to be six clans in the community, but since a battle around the time Riley and Emmett were born, the Horangi clan of scholars has been cast out, their library and the history of the clans closed off to everyone. It was in this battle that Emmett’s mother was killed, leading his father to deny him a magical education.
This means that there is lots to learn on their journey, from the magical lore that Emmett hadn’t learned up until now, to both of them discovering secrets that had been deliberately locked up for the last thirteen years. The magical library, which looks like a conservatory filled with birds that only turn into books when you take hold of them, has to be the most unusual magical library I’ve ever read about.
The whole journey takes a rather ordinary MacGuffin hunt and turns it into an exciting adventure that involves serious soul-searching and reevaluation not just from Riley but from the whole community. The stakes are high and the sacrifices Riley and Emmett have to make are huge. The challenge for me in these books is always finding enough time in the ever-present action for the characters to grow and feel like real people, and this book succeeds admirably in balancing both of these elements. Here is another new series I look forward to seeing more of.
I have enjoyed nearly every book in the Rick Riordan Presents line, so definitely check out others in this imprint for more modern-day mythological adventures. There’s more Korean mythology to be found in Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee, When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller, and Where’s Halmoni by Julie Kim.
This book has been nominated for the Cybils award. This review reflects my opinion, not that of the Cybils committee.