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REVIEW:  Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

REVIEW: Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

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Dear Ms. White,

Your latest novel, Illusions of Fate, is a departure from Mind Games and Perfect Lies, a duology about a pair of sisters gifted with special powers that make them ideal for espionage. Instead, we go to an alternate world reminscent of Victorian England. Except filled with magic.

Born on the island of Melei, Jessamin has gone to the country of Albion to get an education. Of course, it’s not so easy. Melei is under the colonial control of Albion, and Jessamin herself is the result of a union between a Melei woman and a visiting scholar from Albion. To no one’s surprise, the scholar couldn’t care less about them but Jessamin’s mother still hopes the man remembers them. Jessamin is more practical than her mother. She doesn’t want any sort of relationship with the man — except she has no problems blackmailing him into helping her gain admission into the university. The professor has a wife, you see, who has no knowledge that her husband has an illegitimate daughter with a foreigner. This fact right here was more than enough to cement my affection for Jessamin as a heroine.

Being biracial — and visibly so; no passing here — Jessamin is the target of racism and bigotry from her peers. This is why she causes a sensation when she attracts the attention of Finn, a young noble of Albion who has recently come to the city. Even more startling is when he “shadows” her — his shadow leaves his body and attaches to hers, granting Jessamin two shadows. This is the equivalent of a soulbond. Some people are scandalized. Some people are entertained. Finn sets out to win Jessamin. And Jessamin just can’t be bothered with all this nonsense.

But it’s not all fun and games. Finn has enemies among the Albion peerage. Albion, you see, is torn between minding its own business or expanding its imperialistic designs even more. Finn has managed to prevent the latter from happening but when he shadows Jessamin, a rival on the opposing side finally sees a chance to leverage the young lord to change his mind. Jessamin has no magic so you’d think this would leave her out of her depth. Thankfully, she’s very clever and doesn’t see why Albion social boundaries should restrict her as she isn’t from Albion at all.

This was a really charming book. I really liked Jessamin as a heroine. It was refreshing that despite the fact she found Finn very hot, she was dubious about his intentions. This was in line with her background — her mother got taken in by an Albion gentleman who used her and left her, and she had no intention of suffering the same fate. It was nice to see a YA novel touch on the effects of colonialism and imperialism, both on a larger level and a personal level.

I adored Eleanor. She was a great supporting character and ally for Jessamin, who gets catapulted into Albion’s upper society thanks to Finn’s shadowing her. I thought she was hilarious and brave despite the pressures put upon her by everyone else.

Overall, I thought Finn was all right. Not an asshole in the slightest. That said, I admit that I thought less of him when he made it all about himself about Jessamin’s reticence about reciprocating. So what if he’s not racist and doesn’t care about the color of her skin? I’m happy for him. But he has to think about what it means that his non-racist views are extraordinary in this society, on top of realizing that sure, maybe he’s not racist but Jessamin will have to live her entire life dealing with bigoted perspectives. No amount of his love is going to cancel that out. Sorry, it’s not enough. It’s believable that he doesn’t realize the structural racism inherent in society — he’s only 19, after all. But I would have liked to see more pushback against his defensiveness, and less Jessamin capitulating to his side. She has a reason to be defensive. Her mother’s story is far more common than Jessamin’s, after all.

I really enjoyed Illusions of Fate. Your writing style is so comfortable, that it’s easy to sink into the story. I loved Jessamin as a heroine, and I loved that even though she was ostracized by the color of her skin, this didn’t mean she had no female friends or allies. The romance was sweet, and I admit I was charmed by Jessamin’s crow friend. Add in the exploration of colonialism and imperialism, and I’m all yours. Can’t wait until your next book. B+

My regards,
Jia

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REVIEW:  The Year We Hid Away by Sarina Bowen

REVIEW: The Year We Hid Away by Sarina Bowen

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Dear Ms. Bowen:

Jane read your first book in the Ivy Years Series, The Year We Fell Down, and really enjoyed it. I’ll be honest, I was hesitant to read it because generally speaking, I’m not a big fan of “issue” books. I like my romance straightforward with the issues coming internally, rather than externally. But why I ever question Jane when she directly says to me, “I’m sure you’ll like these books” is beyond me. So this weekend I opened The Year We Fell Down and gobbled it up in giant bites. Of course, I immediately bought and gorged on book two, The Year We Hid Away, which I think I enjoyed even more that The Year We Fell Down.

Shannon Ellison is fleeing her life. The daughter of a well known former NHL star, and current hockey coach who is now accused of molesting multiple young boys, she wants nothing more than to escape the relentless news reporters and ooglers who chase her family and have made her a prisoner in her own home. She honestly doesn’t know if her dad is guilty. He was a pretty horrible father, always cold and critical. All she wants is to escape her family. She does this by legally changing her name to Scarlet Crowley and fleeing to Harkness College where she hopes no one will recognize her. Her senior year in high school was awful. She became an outcast, despite being a well recruited, extremely talented hockey player. She lost friends, and her position on the squad. Now, she just wants to start over.

She arrives at college, immediately informs the hockey coach that she can’t play for her, and tries to get on with her life. She enrolls in a Stats class and meets Bridger McCauley. He’s gorgeous, a former hockey player and seems really friendly. Bridger also has a secret. Since his dad’s death, his mother has become an addict. The last time he was home, he found drug paraphernalia on the dining room table, and he promptly removed his seven year old sister, Lucy from the home. He’s been hiding her in his dorm room ever since. He has no family in the area and is unwilling to tell his secret to anyone. He knows his best friend Adam’s mom would take Lucy in, but she’s just started college (the first thing she’s really ever done just for herself) and he doesn’t want to impose upon her generosity and kindness. No, he’s determined he’ll care for Lucy. She’s his responsibility. But he knows that if Social Services finds out about his mom or that he has Lucy, they’ll remove her from his care. He’s bound and determined that won’t happen.

Bridger catches Scarlet staring at him in Stats class. They strike up a cautious friendship, with him offering to help her with Stats and her offering to help him through Music Theory. They’re absolutely attracted to each other, but neither can take that next step because of their secrets. But the more time they spend together, the more tempting they become to each other. Once they finally do act on that attraction, they want nothing more than to be with each other, but Bridger really can’t build a life outside of caring for Lucy and Scarlet is terrified of her secret coming out. When Bridger finally confesses to Scarlet what is going on, she’s touched and impressed with his deep and abiding love for his sister and she begins to help them. But she knows the longer she’s with Bridger, the more likely he is to find out her secret. And she knows that if it comes out, she could risk both losing him, and negatively impacting whether he can keep custody of Lucy. But when Scarlet’s father’s attorneys and the States Attorney begin chasing down Scarlet to testify, she knows her secret will come out. Will the fragile relationship she and Bridger have been building be strong enough to withstand the storm?

I’ve been reading New Adult books for a while now, and so many of them are filled with what I’d call “pseudo-angst” or angst that feels manufactured, rather than a genuine plot point that propels the story forward. But both Scarlet and Bridger had true issues. Tough ones that informed their priorities and provide a true tension to their love story. I felt like the story had a few loose threads that I’d have liked to see you build upon, most specifically Scarlet’s love for music, which seemed so big at the beginning of the story and then was somewhat left by the wayside once the action began. But overall, the story is extremely well plotted. The characters both grow and change throughout, and it’s got a really fascinating hook to it. As usual, Jane was right. The Year We Hid Away was right up my alley and definitely one of a few New Adult books that I’ve read recently that truly resonates. Final grade: B+

Kind regards,

Kati

 

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