The Labyrinth Of Stars

by Marjorie M. Liu

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

It’s in our nature to put labels onto things or put them in nice, neat little boxes. Though we may have millions of these little mental boxes there is generally a clear line of good and bad. Things we like and are helpful are good, while things that hurt us or we disagree with we deem bad. But the main difference here is that we see the good as part of us and the bad as somehow alien or out there. The theme of Labyrinth of Stars is that eventually, in order to be great, we’ll have to embrace all parts of ourselves and use them to our advantage.

Maxine and Grant are home and happy. Maxine is pregnant with a baby that is both half light-bringer and half demon hunter. Grant is still healing from his crushed kneecap and trying to deal with his mantle of demon lord. But bliss doesn’t last as monsters from another dimension come ripping into their little demon-farm in Texas. Liu does a quick, efficient job of laying out the setting, powers (and their limitations), and plot in the first couple of chapters. It is a recap so that if you haven’t read the previous books you know what is happening, but it’s fast enough if you are a fan of the series you don’t bet bogged down with details you already know.

Grant, Maxine, and her little demon helpers have no trouble dispatching the demons that come at them only their attackers do something different, poisoning Grant to render his power useless so they can capture him. Maxine saves him and cures him fast enough but all of this was just a ploy. The actual plan that is put into motion originates from one of the beings with unlimited power, the Aetar. The Aetar cannot allow Maxine’s child to be born as it would be too powerful even for them. This seems like it would be a constant problem from the moment they discover Maxine is pregnant. One would think that the Aetar would attack Maxine relentlessly until they either succeed or they would just do something drastic like blow up the Earth.

The Aetar have found a way to get rid of Maxine, Grant, their baby, and all of the demons on the planet in one fell swoop. The only problem is that it might kill off all the life on the planet along with it. Maxine has to make a deal with the devil to save her child and search through friends and enemies to see who is really behind the attack.

In my opinion, planetary destruction would have been easier. 

I think that genre writers that write in a different or new genre have their old ones bleed over. Stephen King has written a few mysteries that definitely have some horror elements in them. Jack Ketchum's western was way grosser than it needed to be. And Liu adds the over-description that one finds in romance novels (she also writes paranormal romance). There is an audience for this, but it falls more to romance readers as opposed to the sci-fi readers. All the over-description deals with Maxine having some sort of struggle, mental or otherwise, before overcoming it. 

The mythology of the series was interesting:  five super powerful demons have been imbued into one woman, making her invulnerable...until she has a daughter and passes the demon strength on. Though this story line is very similar to the story line in the comic book series, The Darkness (Image Comics, 1996-present). It also runs into the comic-book-invincible-hero problem. If your hero is super powerful or unkillable, you'll spend all your time trying to come up with ways that their powers are turned off or repressed so they can face real danger. This was something the Matrix sequels suffered from as well, not to mention a lot of Wolverine story lines. In Labyrinth of Stars author Liu explores some interesting worlds and creatures at times that didn't ring any specific bells.

The idea of seeing demons as individuals with feelings, thoughts, and dreams was a nice touch, having the demons as something inside of us instead of something outside, alien. But this again is very similar to an earlier idea, in this case the Clive Barker novella, Cabal (Collins, 1988). The difference here being that Maxine realizes that what she hunts and kills isn't some movie or video game bad guy who exists to do bad things and needs to be taken out, in Cabal, Boone was wrapped up in a plot to help the Night Breed.

Pre-used ideas (but not cliche) and over-description aside, Labyrinth of Stars provides an entertaining dark Urban Fantasy. Fans of the series are given a new satisfying installment, the fifth in the series, and new comers are granted a well-written dark thriller. Nothing new here, but some interesting takes on previous ideas.