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REVIEW: The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson

Star of Kazan title

Dear Ms. Ibbotson,

I’ve long been a fan of your adult novels. They have a way of showing even the most mundane things in a magical light, and that always makes me realize there’s a bit of fairy tale in everyone’s life. Your books set in Vienna are some of my favorites, because the city through your eyes becomes a place on par with Faery, with enchantments of color and taste and music to be found around every corner. So when I read that you had written a young adult novel set in pre-WWI Vienna, I promptly ordered it, and upon receiving it, promptly devoured it.

This was, of course, not quite like your adult novels. This was written for children, and clearly from the point of view of a young girl. And to a young innocent living in Vienna, the city is a most magical place with little darkness. People around her did have their foibles, but she rarely focused on them (indeed, sometimes she never saw them for what they were), but you described what she saw deftly enough that the reader could recognize them.

I felt like you were writing a modern fairy tale. A baby girl abandoned in a mountainside church, taken by two maiden housekeepers to live with them and three eccentric professors, raised to work hard but always with joy and pride. Still as an orphan she had some secret dreams. These were fueled by her fairy godmother of sorts, an old sick woman she is paid to tell stories to, but who becomes a friend who tells stories of her own of a young actress’s magical days in Paris. And when the girl’s mother shows up, the child is all too ready to see only her dreams come true and not look beneath the surface.

Of course, in this fairy tale not all is what it seems, but she finds out that even when old dreams fade new ones come to take their place.

There were some parts to the story that kept it from being a perfect read for me. The horrid girls’ school section, while commonplace ever since stories like Jane Eyre, was a little over the top. But I did love how her family pulled together to get her out of there. And some people might not love how everything is neatly wrapped up at the end, but this is a children’s book, and a fairy tale, and in that time, in that Vienna, it felt just right.

This is a story I would have treasured as a little girl and would have come back to time and again. While I’m no longer a child on the outside, this book reminds me of what it is to be one on the inside, and I recommend it for all children at heart.

 

Sincerely,

à£Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚ ¸Ãƒ £Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚ §Ãƒ £Ã†’ ¼Ãƒ £Ã†’ ³

(JÄ n)

reads any genre as long as the books aren't depressing. Her preferred reads these days are in manga format and come from all manga genres, but she especially likes romance, doubly so when there are beautiful men involved. With each other. Her favorites among currently-running English-translated manga series include NANA, Ze, Ouran High School Host Club, Junjou Romantica, Blood Alone, Vampire Knight, Skip Beat, Silver Diamond and anything by the holy triumvirate of BL: Ayano Yamane, Kazuma Kodaka and Youka Nitta, including any scribbles they might do on the backs of napkins.

18 Comments

  1. Janine
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 16:37:37

    Thanks for reviewing this, Jan. I’ve read all but one of Ibbotson’s novels for adults as well as one of her other YA novels. Of the six I’ve read, three have fallen into the B/B+ range and the other three were A’s. I’ve been eyeing The Star of Kazan for a few years now and I think I will read it soon. Her books are so charming. Have you read her other YA, Journey to the River Sea?

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  2. Jan
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 16:56:30

    No, I’d not read any of her YA novels because I thought they were all those ghost/witch stories and I wasn’t really interested in those. I’ll have to look for the one you mention.

    This really is more childlike than her novels like The Magic Flute, but you can see the connections between them. I think charming is just the right word for this and her other books.

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  3. Katie
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 17:42:02

    What a fantastic review, Jan.
    Even I who have studied six years in Vienna am still captured by Ibbotson’s writing style and how she turns a city that has been home for a very long time into a magic and charming new place. This makes me want to re-visit some of my favorite books by this author, thanks for reminding me :-)

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  4. Janine
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 18:07:08

    No, I'd not read any of her YA novels because I thought they were all those ghost/witch stories and I wasn't really interested in those. I'll have to look for the one you mention.

    I think most of them are ghost / witch stories but Journey to the River Sea was set completely in the real world, except for having the same magical atmosphere that Ibbotson brings to all her books.

    This really is more childlike than her novels like The Magic Flute, but you can see the connections between them.

    Journey to the River Sea shares its setting of Manaus Brazil and its theater with A Company of Swans. So you can see some connections there too.

    Incidentally, many of Ibbotson’s books for adults have just recently been reissued here in the United States. A Countess Below Stairs (also available as The Secret Countess), A Company of Swans, The Morning Gift and A Song for Summer are all back in print now.

    These books are being published as YA books for some reason, even though they are romances originally written for adults. Because of the decision to publish them as YA, I understand why my personal favorite, Madensky Square, has not been reissued, since it’s the most adult in its themes of her books. But I’m really puzzled by the absence of Magic Flutes.

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  5. Janine
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 18:31:09

    I just did some googling and found out that she has another interesting looking children’s book coming out in the UK in May.

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  6. Jan
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 18:52:10

    Really? They’re being released as YA? I suppose that’s because she has the built-in audience among young readers now and they want to capitalize on that. I think young women who like the Potter books might get pulled into these as well.

    There is a marked difference IMO between those older books of Ibbotson’s though and this book. This is one suitable for grade school readers, whereas I think the others are teen level at least.

    That new book looks good. I’ll bet it’s not long until it’s released over here. I’ve been poking around about The Star of Kazan, and it’s on the reading lists of a number of schools in the states.

    I’m really thrilled that she’s becoming more popular. It’s so nice to see it happen to an author you love.

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  7. Jan
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 18:55:58

    What a fantastic review, Jan.
    Even I who have studied six years in Vienna am still captured by Ibbotson's writing style and how she turns a city that has been home for a very long time into a magic and charming new place. This makes me want to re-visit some of my favorite books by this author, thanks for reminding me :-)

    Thanks Katie! I’ve had very little time to read in the past 6 months, and it generally takes me a week or so to get through a book, if that. But this one I sat down and read the day I got it, and work be damned. It just pulled me in to another place, and I wanted to stay there.

    I envy you your time in Vienna. But at least through Ibbotson’s writing I feel I know a little piece of it. (And it’s been a long time since I made a sachertorte, mmmm. ;D)

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  8. Katie
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 19:42:05

    I envy you your time in Vienna. But at least through Ibbotson's writing I feel I know a little piece of it. (And it's been a long time since I made a sachertorte, mmmm. ;D)

    I have to confess, I got totally sentimental and very patriotic when I read about this story. Austria is definitely not the first choice of setting a story, that’s why I am so proud of Ibbotson who is a native Austrian and her wonderful books.
    I am currently away from home (though home is not in Vienna but in the west part of Austria) and even though I totally love being here in Glasgow – my domicile for the next eight months – your review makes me go all mushy LOL.

    Hmm, I haven’t eaten a piece of Sachertorte for quite some time, either. DAMN. Let’s meet for some kaffeeklatsching (Love that word, I recently discovered it can also be used in English).

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  9. Li
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 14:12:47

    I just discovered Ibbotson recently and loved “The Secret Countess” (the UK title, I think?) and “The Morning Gift”. I’ve “A Song for Summer” and this one in my TBR pile, am slowly making my way through her backlist! I think your first paragraph captured exactly what’s unique about her writing style – the magical and fairytale-like quality she brings to the everyday world.

    I’ve googled “Madensky Square”, and it sounds fascinating – I’ll have to keep an eye out for it, hopefully they will re-release it at some point!

    I’m curious about her children’s books – does anyone know if her ghost/witch books are written in a similar style?

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  10. Jan
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 14:23:45

    Thank you, Li.

    I don’t know anyone who’s read the other children’s books, but I’m tempted to now. :) You may also want to try A Company of Swans, which is a really lovely story. It’s set in South America, and is about dancers.

    I recall Madensky Square being the most disputed title of hers among my friends, because it’s not quite as romantic to some of them. But it’s a very good book, and I enjoyed it a lot. As Janine said though, it’s unlikely that it will be re-released as a YA book, since it’s about a young woman who is an older man’s mistress. There are a few used copies online for under $5. You may want to snap it up while you can. (check http://www.addall.com/used)

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  11. Jan
    Oct 18, 2007 @ 09:23:39

    I read a witch novel of hers last night and it’s written for the very young. It’s not like these books at all. It really didn’t hold my interest.

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  12. Janine
    Oct 18, 2007 @ 12:12:22

    I meant to reply to this post of yours sooner, Jan, but I got swept up in replying to posts on the Forbidden Shores dueling review and in following posts on the “How to Fling About Legal Insults Like a Lawyer” comment thread yesterday.

    Really? They're being released as YA? I suppose that's because she has the built-in audience among young readers now and they want to capitalize on that. I think young women who like the Potter books might get pulled into these as well.

    Yes, I suspect that’s the reasoning for releasing the books as YA. Teen books have become more sophisticated lately. Also, now that I think about it, Ibbotson’s romances don’t contain love scenes, and that might make it tougher to market them in the romance genre, given the genre’s current hot climate. But however they are marketed, those books are suitable reading for adults, and I hope that romance readers will find them wherever they are shelved.

    There is a marked difference IMO between those older books of Ibbotson's though and this book. This is one suitable for grade school readers, whereas I think the others are teen level at least.

    I would say the same of Journey to the River Sea — it is aimed at pre-teens but can be enjoyed by older readers as well.

    That new book looks good. I'll bet it's not long until it's released over here. I've been poking around about The Star of Kazan, and it's on the reading lists of a number of schools in the states.

    I'm really thrilled that she's becoming more popular. It's so nice to see it happen to an author you love.

    Yes, that’s wonderful.

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  13. Janine
    Oct 18, 2007 @ 12:23:27

    I recall Madensky Square being the most disputed title of hers among my friends, because it's not quite as romantic to some of them. But it's a very good book, and I enjoyed it a lot. As Janine said though, it's unlikely that it will be re-released as a YA book, since it's about a young woman who is an older man's mistress. There are a few used copies online for under $5. You may want to snap it up while you can. (check http://www.addall.com/used)

    I guess it could be considered less romantic, because the main character’s story doesn’t end in marriage, and her lover stays married to someone else (though separated), but I thought she still got an emotionally satisfying ending, and there are secondary romances in the book that do get the traditional HEA. In any case, I love that book. And yes, though it’s a shame that the book is out of print and can’t be purchased new anymore, Jan is correct that there are some very affordable used copies floating around the internet, including one for 0.75 at half.com.

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  14. Janine
    Oct 18, 2007 @ 12:25:19

    I read a witch novel of hers last night and it's written for the very young. It's not like these books at all. It really didn't hold my interest.

    Give Journey to the River Sea a try. It’s for older kids — age eleven or so, I’d say.

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  15. Li
    Oct 18, 2007 @ 14:44:54

    Thanks for the info – both on “Madensky Square” (the storyline is really intriguing me now!) and on the children’s books. I’ll stay with her YA books for now – sounds as though I still have a few to look out for!

    Also, now that I think about it, Ibbotson's romances don't contain love scenes, and that might make it tougher to market them in the romance genre, given the genre's current hot climate.

    I think while both the ones I’ve read (“The Secret Countess” and “The Morning Gift”) stay out of the bedroom, TMG is possibly a tad too explicit for the younger teenage reader. Though having said that, I now recall a couple of books I read at that age which were similar…

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  16. Li
    Oct 18, 2007 @ 14:47:18

    Heh. I have absolutely no idea why the winking smilie has appeared in my post above.

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  17. Rose
    Apr 28, 2013 @ 09:05:38

    This is the first time I’ve come across your blog, and I just wanted to say that I adore the format you use with the ‘Dear Author’! Also, I really agree with what you said about Eva Ibbotson making Vienna seem magical. I read it when I was thirteen and the setting she created was spell-binding, and although I love science fiction and dystopians, it was really refreshing to read something as old-style as this.

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  18. Calz
    May 05, 2013 @ 23:31:28

    You know, the Star of Kazan was my first book by Eva Ibbotson. I read it when I was about 10, and it fascinated me ever since. It’s one of the books that still stick with me after so many years, and it’s the book that made me an Ibbotson fan. Glad to see that people still read the book even though it classified as a children’s book.

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