Book Review – The Sun and Stars by Elizabeth Adair

Title: The Sun and Stars
Author: Elizabeth Adair

The Sun and Stars is a blend of cozy mystery, historical fiction, and romance with decent writing and poorly chosen cover art. Isabel Holland is the (fictional) illegitimate daughter of King Henry the VIII. When her cousin is accused of murder and theft at a joust, she takes the initiative and tries to clear his name by launching her own investigation into the matter.

Henry the VIII is my least favorite English monarch, and generally I prefer historical fiction that steers clear of active involvement by real people. Adair admits to playing fast and loose with certain historical details, though I suspect she’s a bit of an amateur expert on the period. But I appreciate her openness about entertainment over accuracy.

There were a few times where it felt like the book was struggling between its historical aspects and cozy mystery aspects. But over all the pacing was good. The only times I felt bored was when she dwelt too long on Isabel speculating on political rumors and possibilities instead of actively interacting and gathering information. There were the appropriate number of false leads for a mystery, a little bit of action, and while I wasn’t exactly charmed by Isabel herself, the secondary characters were colorful and engaging.

Adair shows her flair for description and imagery in brief spurts, but I feel like that was curbed to keep a more modern pace and probably shouldn’t have been. Those imagery moments, the introduction of the jester, sun hitting the water on a boat ride, etc. are the spots where the book shines brightest, and they are too sparse.

In truth Isabel is a somewhat clumsy detective, but her investigative methods are appropriate to her time period. (Modern deductive reasoning is centuries away.) And it is her first case, so there’s some realism to her not asking all the right the questions or exploring every avenue. My greatest disappointment is, while she gives a passing thought to others forgetting the two murdered guards, she makes no effort to investigate them herself. However, for a lady of the English court, it seems very natural for her to focus on the power behind the plot rather than the victims.

Over all this was a fun read and I think Adair has a lot of potential as an author.  (This is her first novel.) There are several aspects of this book that I would have liked to see pushed a bit further, which might have nudged it out of cozy mystery territory more firmly into historical intrigue, but that wouldn’t be a bad thing. There’s a psychological richness to the characters, but the revelations of layers seemed a bit rushed at times. So the impact is blunted.

I give The Sun and Stars a 3.6/5. It’s a better than average book, but there were a few rough aspects. So it nips at the heels of a 4 but doesn’t quite make it. I read an ARC copy that I picked up for free at a coffee shop’s book exchange, so quite possible the final version has more polish.  (I’m not knocking any points for the very few grammatical mistakes I saw as those are normal for ARCs and usually squeezed out before release.  I speak mainly of phrasing and plot roughness.)

P.S. On my comment about the cover art. The art isn’t bad so much as it seems unfinished. Other reader/reviewers I showed it to commented that they found it a bit cartoony for an adult mystery.  Occasionally ARC copies have different covers than the finished work, but in this case, it appears to be the same.  The interior artistic flourishes in the layout are nicely done and very appropriate.

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