A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe
Published 7th September 2017 by Zephyr
Star Rating - ***
Goodreads Challenge - 60/50
I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis from GoodreadsFourteen-year-old Sante isn’t sure where she comes from, but she has a recurring dream of escaping a shipwreck in a sea chest as a baby with her lifelong companion, golden eagle Priss. In the chest was an African bamboo flute, a drum and a dagger inlaid with diamonds. Sante was found and raised by Mama Rose, leader of a nomadic group of misfits and gypsies. They travel around contemporary southern Europe, living off-grid and performing circus tricks for money. Sante grows up alongside two twins, knife-thrower Cat and snake-charmer Cobra, whom she is in love with. During a performance in Cadiz, Sante recognises two men from her dream. They come after her to retrieve the treasures from the sea chest. Sante finds out that she is an Ashanti princess, whose parents probably perished in the shipwreck. After Cat rescues a beautiful red-haired girl called Scarlett from a gang, Mama Rose’s band are forced to flee the city. But Sante and Cobra stay behind, determined to find out more about her family and where she came from.
My ThoughtsI have quite a lot of thoughts about this one so before I begin I just want to say I apologize for the long review but I want to make sure I let you know all of my thoughts.
I hadn't really heard of this book until I saw a picture of the cover on Twitter and I thought oh my goodness I need to read this. I looked into the synopsis a bit more and I liked the sound of it and the fact that it was written by a Ghanaian author was another tick. I then saw it was available for request on NetGalley and here we are. The story follows Santa who was rescued my Mama Rose and her family circus after washing up on a beach as a baby. We watch as Santa is constantly plagued by dreams about her past and becomes determined to find out who she really is and where she comes from. As you can see it's not a very plot heavy book. It focuses much more on the characters, especially Santa, as we follow her on her journey of self discovery.
There are lots of elements of magical realism throughout the story, much of which seems to be rooted in African folklore, as well as some more hard hitting themes such as human trafficking and refugees. It is also a very diverse book with an eclectic mix of characters including a Ghanaian main character, a traveler group and a female/female romance. So all in all this sounds like the makings of what could of been a fantastic book but it didn't quite hit the mark in my opinion.
The writing style was interesting. It took me a while to get into it, I found the very short 2/3 word sentences quite jarring to begin with but once I got into it it flowed quite well. On the whole I thought the writing was good. It was very magical and fairytalesque and in places it was beautiful and worked well with the story. The whole novel was written like a fairytale and, although I love fairytales, I didn't feel this quite worked with the more serious themes within the book. I would of liked the author to have dived more into the heart of these topics to explore them and their effect on our main characters a bit more. I also found some of Santa's dream sequences and internal monologues to be a bit confusing. I also felt there was a lack of world building, especially in the beginning. I didn't really know when this novel was set, sometimes it felt like we were in more olden day times and then at other times there was mention of modern day technology and places. I loved the fact that this novel was set around a circus, mention circus and I'm there it's one of my favorite settings, but I would of liked some more depth to the world.
In terms of the characters I loved Santa. I loved how determined she was to keep searching for the truth and I felt empathy towards her. Her relationship with her bird Priss was heartwarming and I felt the author did a fantastic job of exploring Santa as a person. I also enjoyed Cobra as a character and how he was always looking out for both Santa and his sister Cat. He often came across as the voice of reason. On the other hand I didn't really like Cat or Scarlett. I did like how feisty Cat was but I often felt they both came across as a bit self centered. I also felt their romance was quite instalovey although I did appreciate the inclusion of a female/female romance on the authors part. I felt the author did a good job on Santa's character development but I would of liked a bit more in terms of these three, especially as they were quite central to the story. As for the other characters I loved the idea of it being based around a family and you could see how important each of them were to one another. They always seemed to be looking out for each other.
Overall I loved the magical realism aspects and I liked the themes included however, I don't think they worked overly well together. I understand what the author was trying to achieve but I feel each of these things would of been much better in their own books. The author definitely demonstrated her ability to write and develop characters in parts of this story so I can see the potential there. I would definitely be interested in checking out what this author does in the future.