Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Book Review: Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

There’s something about fantasy novels that allows authors to more gently explore sensitive subjects that might be too harsh for certain audiences in the broad daylight of realistic fiction. Somehow, removing a situation from familiar surroundings allows us to more closely examine it. That illusion of arms-length provides perspective and softens the blow. Illusions of Fate deals with class and race issues, colonialism, sexism, the politics of warmongering, and literal and figurative power imbalances while telling a smashingly good story.

Jessamin comes from the small tropical island of Melei, which has been colonized by the vaguely European country of Albion. Melei natives are looked down on as barely educated savages by the cultured Albion elite, though Jessamin describes a beautiful and complex culture, and though Jessamin studies hard and is at the top of her classes, her Alben classmates shun and ignore her. One evening, she is accosted in a dark alley on her way to the hotel where she works and lives, when a handsome stranger intervenes. After that, Finn seems to be everywhere she is, watching, smiling, charming her with his manners and kindness, until suddenly he humiliates her at a party attended by the city’s leading citizens, pretending not to know her.

And then Jessamin discovers not only that the world is far more treacherous and magical than she knew, but that she has unwittingly become a pawn in a dangerous game with incredibly high stakes.

I loved Jessamin! She is feisty and smart and capable; she works hard both at school and to provide for herself. She doesn't waste time waiting to be saved by others or lamenting the fact that she doesn't have access to the magical skills of the upper class, but uses her brain and the resources available to her to do what she can to outwit her enemies. Jessamin is compassionate as well as determined, brave, yet snarky and quick-witted. She acknowledges her mistakes, and owns her actions. Her relationship with Finn is a delight to watch as these two strong personalities learn to give and take, and grow and develop together.

As I mentioned earlier, White uses the setting to toss in pointed commentary on the Alben society's cultural limitations on women as well as the constraints on those from the "primitive" Melei, mirroring contemporary issues while never allowing those observations to overwhelm the story itself. The attitudes of different characters towards the possibility of war - and how it would affect their lives and bank balances - were enlightening and pertinent to us today as well.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and appreciated the frank look at serious and timely issues without disrupting the narrative flow. I hope we’ll hear more of Jessamin and Finn’s adventures!

Illusions of Fate
by Kiersten White
ISBN: 9780062135896
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, paperback, ebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

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