The Starlight Claim
The Starlight Claim
The hand that smashed the door made Nate jump. Did he cry out? Maybe.
“Stop bein’ a damn fool and open up. You really don’t want me to huff and puff.”
The voice sounded tired. Old and tired. A voice pitted and ragged from years of cigarette smoke, by the sound of it.
Nate held the knife at stomach level. He and Dodge had filleted a lot of fish in their day. Could he use it on a human?
And the door flew open, smacking hard against the closed door of the bathroom.
A man stood there, silhouetted in the wintery light, his body clothed from head to foot in snowmobile gear – black boots, black bib and turtleneck, an open black parka – his face covered with a black ski mask. There was yellow piping on the ski mask around the mouth, nose and eye openings. He looked like the villain from some Marvel comic. Snow Fiend.
In an intergenerational sequel to the Governor General’s Literary Award-winning The Maestro, author Tim Wynne-Jones returns to the wilderness for another fast-paced, complex coming-of-age story. Tormented by nightmares, 16-year-old Nate plans a winter trip to the wilderness lake where his friend, Dodge, disappeared in a boating accident. But when his travelling companion bails, Nate takes off on his own, hoping against all odds to find his lost friend. He battles snow and intense cold to get to his family cabin, only to discover to his horror that escaped criminals have taken it over. Trapped by a blizzard and with no cell coverage, Nate faces disturbing memories of his friend and a family secret as he draws on his wilderness skills to survive both the weather and menacing escapees.
Wynne-Jones has created another psychological thriller about a boy testing his own limits and coming to terms with his identity. The breakneck pace of the present weaves in cinematic flashbacks. Fans of The Maestro will be happy to learn the fate of Burl Crow, who has built a deep and trusting relationship with his son, Nate, and who has passed on many wilderness skills. Nate, however, is on his own in this world. Winter alone is a formidable opponent, shivering with descriptions of cold, wind, snow and ice. Nate also confronts his guilty memories of Dodge who begged Nate to accompany the family on the dangerous boat journey and whose recklessness both exasperated and drew Nate. “Yeah, Dodge had gotten them into some tight spots, but nothing they couldn’t handle. Nothing Dodge couldn’t handle. He brought out something wild in Nate” (p. 129). The friendship was not always positive, and Nate struggles to hold on to his father’s advice, “You remember yourself, son.”
On top of the weather and the ghosts of the past, Nate must also deal with the criminals who have taken over his family cabin. With wild snowmobile chases, booby-trapped cabins and a well-flung baseball, the action careers towards disaster. The villains, especially Shaker, are terrible and relentless, and violence simmers beneath every action. Soon, events spiral out of control with a nail-biting suspense that tests Nate’s nerve: even on a warm evening an absorbed reader tenses for the distant rumble of a threatening snowmobile.
The novel is not only a compelling adventure but also a poignant exploration of complex characters. Nate has been raised to think for himself, yet he is drawn to the charismatic Dodge, who “was never thinking of you, not really.” His personal crisis helps him to remember himself, and, despite the risk, Nate tries to rescue his fallen enemies. The reappearance of Cal, the abusive father in The Maestro, is another test of Nate’s character and provides an opportunity to humanize Cal, if not to forgive him.
Much of the plot of The Starlight Claim is strung together with flashbacks and dialogue, gradually revealing truth and character while pulling the reader along. Voices are distinctive, ranging from prison jargon to educated dialogue to teen slang, yet even the uneducated characters are capable of deep thought. In The Starlight Claim, Wynne-Jones has created an absorbing action story that reveals much about friendship, identity and decency without ladling out easy answers.