Well, this is a first. I’m not sure which challenge to list for this one.
So this was one of many books I found on one of Book Riot’s list of YA/MG books by authors who identify as LGBTQ+. (And in tracking down that list again to add a link to it, I just added several more to my TBR list…) So that means I could use it for challenge #15…but I think I’d rather use a book that actually dealt with LGBTQ+ issues for that challenge. (Which leaves me a lot of choices still. Actually I kind of want to use The Gentlemen’s Guide to Vice and Virtue for that one, not just because it sounds good, but also because the guy pictured on the cover makes me think of Brian Slade. (Yeah, I know, don’t judge a book by its cover…but at least it’s the good, wanting-to-read-it kind of judging!) But that one’s not coming out until late June, so…)
I noticed the sequel to this book on Book Riot’s list of books that only have people of color for their POV characters, which is why I moved this up my list to the “next read” position. But this one is a first person narrative, so I don’t feel like it quite matches challenge #24. But I know a lot of other people were saying that a single POV novel works, so…well, we’ll just see what happens with challenge #24.
As I was reading it, I thought I’d hit on the perfect challenge to list The Girl from Everywhere for, in that I thought Hawaii (where the majority of the book takes place) was more than 5000 miles from here, but then I checked a site that calculates things like that, and it turns out it isn’t. (Looked more like 4500 miles…) So I can’t use it for #11. (But it just occurred to me that one of my Christmas books was about ancient Egypt, and that’s more than 5000 miles from here…so I should probably read that one for #11. Actually, I think Greece was more than 5000 miles from here, too, and I got that big, beautiful book about Mycenae, too…)
I can easily use it for #2, “Read a debut novel,” or #12, “Read a fantasy novel,” so it’s not like I’ll have to bend any rules to make it fit the list. I just have to pick where I want to put it; or rather I have to see what else I find that I want to read to fill in the other holes on the list.
Well, all that fiddling about aside, on to the review!
Our narrator/heroine, Nix Song, is the daughter of the captain of the ship Temptation. This ship — or rather her captain — has an unusual ability: rather than sailing the seas like an ordinary ship, the Temptation sails maps, going right off the edge of one and onto another, crossing time and space, and sometimes even leaving reality to visit fictional or mythical places. The problem in Nix’s life is both simple and complicated at the same time. Her mother died soon after she was born — while her father was off on a journey — and her father is obsessed with finding the right map to the right time in order to save her mother’s life. But if he does that, will Nix still exist, or will the life she’s led be erased by the paradox?
Given the “terrified of being undone by a time paradox” plot thread, my biggest problem with this book is one that normally doesn’t bother me: the first person narration. Because Nix is telling us this story at some point after the story’s conclusion, it removes (in my mind, at least) the threat of ceasing to have ever existed, because how could she be telling the story if none of it ever happened because she ended up with the happy, sedate life her father wanted to share with her mother? I don’t know; maybe that kind of thing is my personal issue with first person narration, as a writer. At some point (I think it was when I was working on Ilios, my pathetic failure of a Trojan War novel), I started getting very hung up on the “who, when and why” of first person narration. As in, “who is the narrator talking to, when are they telling this story, and why?” (Sometimes those issues come up in third person narration as well, of course, but never quite as strongly.) It is, I think, indicative of the fact that these problems always bothered me, even before they crystallized, that when I list my favorite books, the only ones that are first person are the Slayers novels by Hajime Kanzaka (of which sadly only the first 8 are available in English translation), and Lina Inverse as a narrator gives a very strong sense of the general setting in which she’s telling her story. (Bragging in a tavern, most likely…over a very large meal…which is mostly on Gourry’s plate…) Anyway, I feel like the general sense of “is Nixie going to be erased by her selfish father’s desires” was mooted by the narrative style…but for that matter, it was also mooted by the fact that by the time I read the book, it already had a sequel, so obviously she was going to survive.
Now, that may sound like a pretty strong complaint, but it really isn’t that major. I mean, I knew it was a Young Adult adventure novel, so it’s not like I would have expected a tragic ending even if it had been third person narration and even if I hadn’t known it was the first in a series. The tone was supposed to be exhilarating adventure, not fearful suspense.
This book features a colorful cast, from our half-Chinese heroine to her best friend Kashmir (who quite literally stepped out of the Thousand and One Arabian Nights) and the rest of the crew of the Temptation, one of whom is a widow from Northern Africa, who considers herself to be perpetually accompanied by the spirit of her deceased wife. Though we don’t spend as much time with the rest of the crew as we do with Nixie and Kashmir, no one feels like a “token” character to add diversity; they feel like organic parts of a complicated whole.
The story has a nice number of developments, some more surprising than others, but none of them forced or unnatural; it’s a very well constructed piece of storytelling. The descriptions are vibrant and full of life, but not so long that they bog down the narrative. (As someone who can’t think visually, I’m very easily put off by long descriptions, because I can’t process them properly.) And at the end the author is nice enough to provide an afterward explaining the history and folklore behind some of the aspects of the story, some of which were quite surprising!
My main question about this book is this: is this really the first time anyone’s written a book about people able to sail straight from one map (and time) to another? And if so, why did it take until 2016 for someone to come up with it? Because it’s one of the most freakin’ cool abilities I’ve ever heard of! Obviously, there are rules and regulations (unwritten natural rules) that must be obeyed in the process, but seriously how cool would it be to be able to sail just anywhere in time and space so long as you had a map for it?
Part of me wants to say “looking forward to when Hollywood decides to buy the rights to the series” but they’d only screw it up if they tried, so it’s probably best for that not to happen.
Anyway, it likely won’t be too long until my next review, because I’m going to read my selection for challenge #1 next, and it’s very short. (I decided I should probably read it ASAP since it’s a borrowed book. And I’m not sure I actually asked to borrow it, now that I think about it. But my mother’s not likely to even notice it’s not on the shelf, so…yeah, still, I want to read it and return it sooner rather than later. I did ask to borrow the other book I borrowed from my parents, but I may read that one next, so I can return it, too. Or I might not. Depends what I decide to do about #9; I was thinking I might want to use that other borrowed book as a counterweight, so…but I’d have to either find my copy or find one I can get out of a library (’cause I am so not buying it a second time) so it’s still a bit up in the air.) After that, I probably need to dive back into my course work. Actually, I should have been working on that pretty heavily for this entire month, but I came down with a stupid freakin’ cold on the 26th, and I’m still sick…though I think I’m enough on the mend that hopefully I can go to work tomorrow. (Even though it’s supposed to snow. Despite that it was in the 70s yesterday. Ugh. I miss the days when the weather at least tried to make sense.)