Book Review: Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White
I’ve been a fan of Kiersten White’s since Paranormalcy, and I think I’ve read all of her published books (unless one has slipped my notice.) She is a very dependable author – engaging characters, intricate plots, twists that catch me by surprise, and a genuinely wicked and quirky sense of humor.
But this book, y’all – this one has all of that and somehow something more. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to adequately put my finger on it, or that there is an ‘it’ to put my finger on. To put it simply, this novel represents a significant leap forward in her writing – on an ‘order of magnitude’ level. And her books were already really good. This one is just…better.
Jessamin, a young lady from the beautiful, tropical island of Melei, has come to gray, dreary Albion to study at a prestigious school. Although she managed to coerce the school into accepting her, a poor ‘exotic’ girl from a colony of Albion, she does not have the funds to afford to live at the school. She has managed to secure a place serving at a local hotel as a housemaid in order to provide room and board while she attends school. Hurrying from school to work one day, she is accosted by a dockworker who intends to take advantage of her when she is rescued by a young Albion gentleman, who charms her into accepting his offer of supper.
As we delve deeper into Jessamin’s life, we see a poor but proud young lady determined to make her way in the world. She is the product of a union between an Albion who had come to Melei and a Meleian native. Her Albion father turns out to be one of the professors at Jessamin’s school (and the person she was able to coerce to gain acceptance.) A hard worker, Jessamin is an outcast amongst her fellow students due to her racial makeup. She looks, as they see her, like ‘half-breed,’ and is treated accordingly. Her mother was determined that she would learn the ways of the Albions who have colonized their island home, and so she is a bit of a misfit, belonging to both and neither place.
Finn, the young Albion gentleman who rescued her, keeps popping up unexpectedly. It is through him that Jessamin learns that the aristocracy have something they wish very much to keep a secret – magic. As she is drawn deeper into their world, Jessamin learns of the waring forces who wish to control magic and use it to their own ends. Finn is holding out against one particularly evil character, Lord Downpike, the Albion minister of defense. Downpike uses Finn’s affection for Jessamin to try to leverage his way toward his goal. I don’t want to explain too much more for fear of ruining it, but believe me when I say this is a delightfully well written narrative that does the unexpected often enough to keep even the most jaded reader’s interest.
This is a fabulous novel just for the story and the world building. The part I love best, though, is how the author has captured the problematic nature of colonialism and its impact on native cultures. Coming from a colonizing culture (white American of European ancestry – Manifest Destiny, anyone?) I am well versed in all of the ways we supposedly ‘improved’ the areas we colonized. Where would these people be without us? Still living as savages, presumably. This is an attitude and understanding the White has managed to illuminate within the pages of this novel in a way that exposes this false assumption. She also manages to deftly illustrate the devastating impact colonialism has on those who are colonized, both through Jessamin and her island friend Kelen.
I highly recommend this book! I read it as an eARC, but it will be available from Harper Collins on September 9, 2014.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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