Crown of Starlight (Chapter One) [Review]

Crown of Starlight
(Chapter One)

by Cait Corrain

Everybody’s been talking lately about the publishing scandal involving debut author Cait Corrain and her fantasy novel Crown of Starlight, so I thought I’d put in my opinion.

The whole story is here and tells it more eloquently and completely than I can, but the gist is this: Corrain created several (some accounts say nine) sockpuppet** accounts on, and used them to give one and two star reviews to certain other fantasy authors, and higher star ratings to her own book. This is before her book had even come out, or even any ARC (advanced reader’s copies) of it. To make things more controversial, the low ratings were given to BIPOC ones, and some of the sockpuppet accounts had minority-sounding names. And not only that, some of those targeted authors had books coming out by the same publisher as Corrain or were also repped by her agent.

The ruse was discovered by Xiran Jay Zhao, author of the YA SF novel Iron Widow. I’m still not sure how interconnected all these authors were, if they had regular online communications together or not. But the result was that Corrain confessed. At first she tried to first pin the deed on an overzealous, overly dedicated friend, but no one bought that, so she trotted out the old staple of rash behavior due to substance abuse. She was dropped by her agent, her publisher Del Rey, her UK publisher Daphne Press, and a prized spot in Illumicrate, a subscription service that offers monthly mailings of fantasy books.

It’s certainly a bizarre scandal and comparable to the Lani Sarem one a few years ago, in which Sarem tried to scam her self-published urban fantasy Handbook for Mortals on to the NYT Bestseller List by enlisting her friends to order multiple copies from independent bookstores. This was enough to inflate the book’s numbers; when the list came out, the orders were then cancelled. Sarem’s claim to fame is that the rules regarding the list were changed to prevent future gaming of the system that way and the book became a popular hate-read for a while. It was gleefully ripped to pieces on the BookTube circuit and elsewhere, for not only the author’s actions, but because it wasn’t a very well written book. After it blew over, she went back to her acting career where it seems she finally received a named role in the 2023 movie Bathtub Shark Attack. (Her previous parts were walk-ons or extras.)

I should note that many times a book shoots up the bestseller list because of deep-pocketed interests buying up multiple copies – as happens with some political pundits’ books – or people were ordered to, in the case of some religious organizations.

That all said, what of the book itself? Was it worth all this trickery and subterfuge?

Luckily the first chapter was still available a week ago as a free download on the UK publisher’s site, so I was able to read it.

Firstly, there is a fair amount of confusion about whether was YA, NA, or adult fantasy, the hot-as-hell newcomer genre Romantasy, or a retelling of an older story – in this case the Greek myth of King Minos and the Minotaur —  set in a future science fiction realm, as Marisa Meyers’ Cinder series was. From what I read in this chapter, it seems most like the current crop of YA fantasy: simple, readable, and without much depth.

The story is set in an interstellar empire reminiscent of the city-states of ancient Greece. There’s one kingdom called Athens and another Crete, which is the main one. The kingdoms have multiple planets. The religion is vaguely Greek and based on the idea of obligation to the Moirae, or Morals, of Greek mythology. The heroine is Ariadne, the daughter of King-Emperor Minos, who is her dad’s heir but treated harshly by him. She chafes against her royal schooling and domestic restrictions; there’s a lot of the woe-is-me-I’m-the-princess-yet-my-life-is-so-miserable trope in here. It’s broad and lacks nuance. She does a lot of childish snarking for what I assume is an older teen or 20-year-old, much of it containing colloquialisms from this world like “There are no parents to storm into the room, to berate me for insert-flaw-of-the-week-here.” Which is neither Greek, Cretan, or something that might be said hundreds of centuries from now by advanced futurepeople. The Minotaur is her deformed half-brother.

If one equates Minos as Emperor Palpatine, Minotaur as Kylo Ren, and Ariadne as Rey, I guess you could say the Reylo fandom, which the author has previously written fanfic for, may have been a stepping stone. But this setup is also a trope that existed way before Star Wars. There’s nothing new about it.

The conflict happens at the end of the chapter when dad informs Ariadne that she is to supervise the sacrifice of some Athenian soldiers to the Minotaur, as has been happening yearly. Such sacrifices are to punish the Athenians for the death of her older brother in battle. She snaps at the news and refuses, and Minos browbeats her about it: he’s a tyrant and thinks she should show some spine. If this tale adheres to the mythic one, Theseus will be showing up shortly.

All said, it was not bad. The worldbuilding was unexciting and what you’d expect, but it was well integrated, with no awkward info dumps. The writing was serviceable and careful, reminding me of the aforementioned Cinder series. The first person present voice was done very well, so well I didn’t realize it was first person present, a voice I usually dislike, until many paragraphs in. Which was quite an accomplishment for a YA author. It was also an accomplishment that I was drawn in and could have read on to Chapter Two, if it had been available. Though that may have been more out of the curiosity to see how the author handled the myth, for example, the problematic element of the heroine’s mother Pasiphae having sex with a bull.

On the technical side, there were some punctuation errors and several instances of language misuse, and the author has a thing for italicizing random words, for dramatic effect, in a Jackie Collins way. This, more than anything else, cheapened the prose for me, made me doubt the author was completely in control of her work without having to stoop to typographical flashpots.

The writing did have fanfic feels about it, like it was written to precisely please a certain audience and push all their buttons. One might say, of course, “Silly, that’s what all genre fiction is supposed to do.” But something about the intimate focus, the stereotyped setup, and the main character’s kvetching over nothing, is too precious. It lacks subtlety and nuance. The writer plays it safe. For example, the heroine states she had known for a long time she would eventually be called upon to officiate the sacrifice ceremony, yet on being ordered to do it she freaks out like she’s never heard about it before. If she had, why hadn’t she rehearsed, in her head, what she would say to her father on that day? That way they would have a real battle of wills, other than what is depicted on the page, which is what you’d expect. Dad slaps her to show the reader he’s a real brute.

Some elements I did not like at all, like calling the rulers of the various empires “King-Emperor.” Come on. You can be a king or an emperor, not both. Why not make up a royal title, or use a variation of the ancient Greek one?

In the end, though, the book was OK for what it was. Perhaps in later chapters it would have gotten worse or better. As I said, I’d read on.


If the author had doubts about it doing well I could see why. Because, in the end, it didn’t have much complexity of emotion or big points to make.

** A fake social media or internet account intended to be the maker’s mouthpiece.

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