THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE by Heidi Heilig
Nix lives aboard the Temptation, a pirate ship that can sail to any place–real or fictional– as long as they have a map. It’s a good life– except her father’s achieving his dearly held dream may erase her from existence.
Nix’s desire at first is simple: self-preservation. If Captain Slate, her father, is able to get the map that will take their ship back to 1868 Hawaii then he’ll be able save her mother from dying in childbirth. He can live with his wife and young daughter, and the Nix who exists with him on his ship will…vanish. The novel has twinkling details of faraway places, an illuminated peek into the traditions of monarchy-ruled Hawaii, and supporting characters that make the ship feel like home. The trouble starts with Slate. As a parent, Slate ranges from chummy to downright reprehensible: he refuses to teach Nix the art of Navigation, but at the same time corrals her into securing vast amounts of gold or money for him to purchase the latest map of 1868 Hawaii on the auction block. As much as she is the titular girl who can go anywhere, Nix is trapped, both on the ship and in a relationship that is stifling and occasionally abusive. She loves Slate and he loves her, but she hates how he dictates every aspect of her life, forgets her birthday, and says he’ll never hurt her even though they both know he’ll always choose her mother first. Granted, Slate’s opium addiction may color his relationship with his daughter, but their scenes were unsettling enough as the central relationship in the book that it was difficult not to skip them. The stakes are also somewhat low: we know Slate won’t erase Nix after about a third in but Nix continues to fixate.
The crew and Kashmir are well worth all the scenes in between their antics, and the settings and details so well done that you know Heilig has done good research. I’d very heartily recommend this if the parent-child relationship did not put me so ill at ease.
BLACK IRIS by Leah Raeder
NA Contemporary Romance
Beautiful prose with a complex storyline, though perhaps overcomplicated by its timelines.
The hazard of switchback time, let alone more than two timelines, is that clarity is essential. It’s very easy to lose yourself in BLACK IRIS, and if you think that you’ll muddle through without being cognizant of the dates at the start of each chapter, then you’re wrong. Raeder’s prose is effervescent and her characters immediately compelling, it’s just hard to keep what everyone knows and doesn’t know straight from about halfway through onward. Part of the satisfaction in a complex plot is being able to unfurl it with the characters; here it felt like we were robbed of the rush of discovery by never being given the clues we needed to scent it in the first place. Some revenges are clear and very satisfying, others blindside us and seem too brutal until a reason is revealed conveniently in-scene. Laney’s addiction and drug use is carefully fleshed out and her relationship with Blythe burns on the page.
An immensely satisfying story of female friendship and romance that explores the dark places of the human psyche without losing its footing on the way down, even if its bloated plot occasionally stumbles.
A GATHERING OF SHADOWS by V. E. Schwab
After the triumph that was A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC, a book I re-read and savored multiple times and pressed eagerly on friends, Schwab’s latest fell flat.
It starts out strong with our characters bringing us back into what they’ve been doing since we left them and preparing for the Essen Tasch, the Element Games, a tournament of skill for magicians. With so much of the focus on plots and plans at the games, it is surprising that the Games themselves don’t start until around 2/3 through the book, making the bulk of this sequel about preparation and behind the scenes machinations. While I would have normally been on board, I was just bored here: unlike the first book, when everyone is forced to make terrible, tough, and compelling choices, it’s hard to feel anyone’s suffering in AGOS: Kell mopes, Lila reminisces, and Rhy runs. Even the tournament’s magic feels stale: I previously hadn’t noticed that Avatar: The Last Airbender had been such a heavy influence, but with nothing more elaborate than the usual four elements as a base for magic, it felt stifling and unoriginal. Rhys’ love interest disappointed me because I was hoping seeds sown in the first book would come to fruit. The sequel ends on a cliffhanger without feeling like anything really happened besides character development: I would have liked to see more of the explosiveness of the first book rather than shocking us and leaving very little resolved.
Recommended for fans of the series, but a lot will be riding on the third and final book to prove itself and make me not recommend A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC as a standalone.