A JIGSAW OF FIRE AND STARS
GENRES/ SUBJECTS: YA, FANTASY, CONTEMPORARY, GHANAN MC (OWN VOICES)
TW: people trafficking, forced prostitution, use of ablist and racial slurs
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.
I had high hopes for A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars. The cover is so bright and stunning, and the plot summary hints at so many interesting things inside. Unfortunately, the book itself was a bit of a disappointment and I found myself skim-reading quite a few times.
Badoe has a unique writing style, where the sentences read almost as incomplete. It give the book a distinct voice and, in a way, makes it feel like the action is happening very fast. It’s also full of metaphors and descriptions that don’t quite ring true. Some people may really like this, however, it wasn’t to my tastes. I found it a little jarring, and confusing at times — the style doesn’t always lend itself to clarity.
Plotwise, I think the biggest problem with A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars, is that it tries to do too much in too short a space. There’s Sante, her travelling family of performers, and the revelations about the people who raised her. There are mysterious figures from her past and the mystery of her dead parents. There are two (sudden) romantic relationships developing, people-trafficking and a little bit of magical realism. Because there’s so much, it felt like nothing was fully explored. Again, this made it confusing as we flitted from idea to idea. The serious topics of people trafficking and forced prostitution didn’t feel like they were really given the weight they deserved.
I did really like the use of Ghanan folklore, Sante’s dream-sequences and her connection to her bird, Priss — but I think the rest could have been streamlined somehow. I’d really have like to focus more on the circus performers and the secrets they had or go into more depth on the people-smuggling and Sante’s family’s past.