Review: Pocketful of Stars

The absolutely fun thing about Pocketful of Stars is that it’s like a matrouyshka doll. It’s got layers. You open up one, and there’s another fun face looking at you, and you open that one to see yet another… you know how this goes. I found myself chortling at some of the humor in this wonderful tale by the inimitable Margaret Ball.

It’s a story about math. But wait! Not that kind of math and mathematicians. No, these are not boring whatsoever, nor do they do magic. Not at all! What they do, hidden in their doorless secret offices in the research center located on a University campus, is simply applied topology. Even if an objective observer would think that feats like mentally warping space to bring yourself another packet of sugar for your coffee, making it look like it was floating across the room, was magic.

As for the fantastic school, at the age of these protagonists they have moved beyond classroom settings into the position where they are learning as much from one another as they are from their often absent principal instructor. They are newly-fledged adults, and like the grackles that spy on them, they are clumsy learning how to make their way in the real world. But they are still learning, as they discover the extent of their definitely non-magical math visualization.

If that was all there was to it, then perhaps Thalia, Ingrid, and Ben could have happily gone on for years mentally looking at the math in their heads, only occasionally creating some astonishing physical effect, like warping air to make themselves appear to disappear. However, when the secret agency who really funds the research center makes an appearance, in the form of a very handsome agent, Thalia has a feeling things are going to change. With the advent of an ancient Medean mage in the shape of a turtle, things start to get very interesting indeed.

While it’s not a school, in the sense we usually think of one, the students who are trying to learn this math-magic fit well into the role of graduate students everywhere – hungry, anxious, and beleaguered for funding. Having to juggle newfound magic that they insist isn’t adds conflict to the plot, and a great deal of humor to the situations they find themselves tumbling into and out of by the skin of their teeth.

The magic is aided by the pocketful of stars, which I won’t reveal the source of. You’ll have to read the book. But the math, the mobius, and the formulas of the universe all blend in the student’s mind, who applies herself to the lesson, to bring forth a very special kind of magic that has rewards, and a price.

Margaret Ball does a wonderful job, as always, of bringing her characters into vivid life, and of putting them in difficult situations without quite trapping them there, although sometimes it’s a near thing. I’ve read the first two of this trilogy, and happily recommend them to anyone looking for a New Adult, fantasy, a bit of romance, and a lot of fun. As I said, this book made me laugh out loud, repeatedly. Full disclosure: I created the covers for the books, but I did them from synopses, so I hadn’t read them until after release when I bought copies. I can’t wait until book 3 is out, even if I do know exactly what the cover looks like!

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