The Star-spun Web
Written by Sinéad O’Hart
Illustrated by Sara Mulvanny
Published by Stripes 2019
think Deepdean School for Girls – with inter-dimensional travel
Summary from Publisher’s Website
With her passion for scientific experimentation and her pet tarantula Violet, Tess de Sousa is no ordinary orphan. When a stranger shows up at Ackerbee’s Home for Lost and Foundlings, claiming to be a distant relative come to adopt her, Tess hopes to find some answers to her mysterious origins. But as she adjusts to her new life at Roedeer Lodge, it becomes clear that Norton F. Cleat knows more about Tess – and the strange device left with her when she was abandoned as a baby – than he’s letting on. And when Tess discovers that the Starspinner is the gateway between her world and a parallel world in which war rages, she realises she may be the key to a terrible plan. A plan she must stop at all costs . . .
The Star-spun Web is a grand read for any young reader fascinated by machinery, the more unusual concepts of science, and adventure. From the beginning, we are in an alternative world similar to Ireland, but not quite. There’s a gently steampunk quality with phrases like Briternian Isles and faradic energy but as can be seen from the delightful cover (by Sara Mulvanny) there’s also a rather important spider.
Violet the Tarantula matters a great deal to Tess, the intrepid scientist. Indeed, the whole story has a pleasing blend of intriguing mechanisms, mysteries to solve and physical peril on one hand; and friendships, family ties (or lack of them) and emotions on the other.
Recommended for fairly experienced readers of 9 + or so who fancy some (perhaps) mind-stretching speculative fiction with a touch of girls’ boarding school mystery.
from an editor’s perspective (possible spoilers):
- Begins with a prologue illustrating the tender concern of anxious, threatened father – emotional emphasis clearly signalled
- Ackerbee’s is an orphanage, but not the loveless, cruel place so often portrayed
- Tess & Wilf’s friendship is both important to the story and well portrayed
- Ideal for STEM: Tess as scientist is established early on
- Violet the Tarantula both matters emotionally AND to the plot
- Much kindness and mutual support of (most) women and girls shown
- Miss Ackerbee & Rebecca protective; subtle LGBT representation?
- Fabulous writing at times – like a crocodile wearing a human – for example, acts as characterisation and foreshadowing
- Mr Cleat’s backstory & motivation could lead to empathy and change of reader’s perspective – and a consequent shock/sense of betrayal later on.
- Something of the warmth of Deepdean School for Girls in Ackerbee’s Home for Lost & Foundlings, but with added inter-dimensional travel
- Tess and Millie’s relationship brings in an element of class issues
- Mrs Thistleton – an extra antagonist for the purposes of misdirection – complete with the threat of Latin!
- Requires experienced readers as there’s a changed PoV to Thomas and Moose a quarter of way through
- Set-up for further episodes with other worlds