“Fourteen-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”
Well, this one is going to be hard to review because of the high expectations that I had when I requested this arc on NetGalley. I was mainly attracted to the cover, because let’s be honest, this cover is absolutely stunning, and I was hoping the story would be as good as its cover. Maybe it’s because this type of genre is not what I usually go for when reading books, but I had major problems to get into the story and the characters.
In a Jigsaw of Fire and Stars we follow the story of Sante, a fourteen year old girl who was the only one saved from a shipwreck full of migrants and refugees by being put in a chest full of treasures. When she washed ashore, she was found by Mama Rose, a woman who would later become her adoptive mother, and part of her family. Not only has Mama Rose adopted Sante, but she has also taken into her family two other kids as well. While there is a lot of mystery surrounding Mama Rose and the other adults that live together with Sante and the other kids, we are only told about her background towards the last part of the book.
One of the things I liked about the book was the magical realism vibe that Badoe incorporated throughout the story. Sante, an African migrant, has the ability to communicate with her golden eagle, a bird who was essential in her survival after the shipwreck that ended up killing everyone else. And not only did the eagle help her when she was a kid, but also when she found herself in trouble; it is always the golden eagle who comes to her aid and rescue. We also have one of the other kids, Cobra, showing signs of some sort of magical power in which he can sense his twin’s presence, whether she is in trouble, close or far. Because each one of these kids has a magical ability, they work together with Mama Rose as part of a circus troupe which travels and performs from town to town, and country to country.
Badoe’s writing is also one of the highlights of this book, with it being extremely vibrant and rich with plenty of visual images that evoke the scenery of Africa. She delves into the surreal aspects of the story by blurring the lines between reality and fantasy through her writing style, leaving the reader baffled as to whether what he has read is actually happening or not. However, this wasn’t enough for me to get invested into the story or the characters, for that matter. Everything felt too disconnected, the story lagged towards the middle, and the whole storyline of the child traffickers just felt way too unreal, and I’m not saying those things don’t happen, because they do, but it’s a harsh topic that should be dealt with the seriousness and importance it requires, and I found that lacking in this book.
There are also certain examples of problematic content in the story which involve two of the main characters. Sante, regardless of knowing that the term “gypsy” is a racial slur, uses it to refer to herself and her circus family, and we are told that Mama Rose usually dresses up as a geisha with a kimono and white powder on her face when she needs her “thinking time”. Both of those scenes were hard and uncomfortable to read, but since the book hasn’t come out yet, I hope and expect the author realizes the problem with what she has written and changes them.
While this book does explore certain interesting angles on the issue of migrants and the obstacles people fleeing from their countries face, there is not much more for me to say about this book, because it wasn’t one I particularly enjoyed reading, and perhaps it was because I couldn’t connect with the characters or with the story itself. However, I have seen some positive reviews about this, so maybe it was just me that couldn’t find this story as entertaining and amazing as other people have. A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars comes out this September 7th, so if magical realism is a genre you like or you feel intrigued by the synopsis of this book, feel free to check it out once it’s published.
* I RECEIVED AN ARC OF THIS BOOK FROM NETGALLEY IN EXCHANGE FOR AN HONEST REVIEW.