Dead Stars, Dead Plot

Author: Andrew Van Wey

Something is going on, something unnatural, cosmic, fetid. It started with a car wreck, a burning vision of a dead woman in a bathtub, and a warning. Where and how will it end?

Mark is used to being alone, living his bachelor life with his sometimes girlfriend in Madrid. But after his sister’s death, he’s back in the States, taking care of his thirteen-year-old niece, Zelda, and trying to balance his sister’s last warning against his own knowledge that he is in way over his head. Add in some greedy relatives who want Zelda’s money and a modern new house where everything is automated, and you have a setup for squabbles and awkwardness.

Meanwhile, something in the universe that lives in the dead stars is arising. It has a host now, a young boy, and its demanding sacrifices. It has plans for the new community Mark and Zelda have found themselves in.

Andrew Van Wey’s Head Like a Hole was one of the creepiest, most inventive, most surrealistic books I’ve ever read. When I saw that he had another book, with a similarly Lovecraftian cover and a suitably dramatic name, I was all in. Unfortunately, while Head Like a Hole sang, By the Light of Dead Stars was a monotone delivery, a substandard, off-key story that starts and fumbles, one that has far too many things going on, zero ties, boring characters, and an unearned, unoriginal ending. The entire thing was a mess, and the only good portion was the cool cover art, which doesn’t tie into anything in the narrative.

Zelda was named after a video game, and this takes up a large portion of the tale, as the author describes, in-depth a new video game that Zelda’s parents were working on before their deaths. It’s basically a riff on Pokémon Go and those other games where you must adventure outside to find different things, have fights, and level up. We spend a LOT of time with this game, but it never actually ties into the plot.

We also spend a lot of time with side characters and moments that don’t matter or add up. The author tries to give Mark some characterization. He’s a good man in a bad position, not really suited to deal with a teen girl, but willing to sacrifice his entire life anyway. But it’s not earned. His interactions with Zelda seem forced, and that lovely family bond is smacked on at the end, without any build up or escalation from their awkwardness to sudden bod. It doesn’t work. These people aren’t real, and we know it.


Our monster is equally unexplained. She/it needs a way into the world, a host as it were. But this makes ZERO sense. If she’s so powerful, why is she limited and thwarted by the action of teenagers? And why don’t these teenagers tell anyone anything? And when they do, and come up with damn good evidence, why does everyone fall asleep at the switch?

How does the corrupted real estate agent and police officer side plots add anything at all? And this modern house that’s all automated – what does that have to do with ancient evil entities invading a happy little suburban community? Nothing, absolutely nothing.

So, we have a lot of stuff and plots starting up at once, yet we have minimal action. This story is so painfully slow. Nothing happens for a very long time. None of the characters seem like anything more than cardboard cutouts, and the time we spend with them is more about running the clock out than building a connection between reader and future monster chow. Everyone is stereotypically good or bad, none of it matters to us, and the overly dramatic doomsday ending is just a silly bow on a epically bad present.

I’ll come back to Andrew Van Wey, because Head Like a Hole really was that good, but I won’t be reading the second book in this Lost Coast series. This isn’t where the magic is at.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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