Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White (HarperTeen, 9 September 2014)
A good standalone YA fantasy novel is such a refreshing thing. ILLUSIONS OF FATE is the perfect pick-me-up for anyone looking for a break from having too many feelings over an epic series. If you're looking for a short and sweet historical fantasy that's guaranteed to leave you smiling, with a lovely romance and great characters, look no further.
Jessamin is from the warm and sunny island of Melei, which has been colonised by cold and dreary Albion. Now a history student in Albion, Jessamin runs into more excitement than she'd ever have imagined when she meets Finn, a young nobleman who is entangled in political intrigue. Jessamin can't get Finn off her mind – and soon she realises how dangerous that can be, for both her and Finn, when she's dragged headlong into an unknown world of power and magic, which only the nobility can wield.
I fell in insta-love with this book. I warmed to Jessamin's voice immediately, and I could just relate to her so much. I'm from Hong Kong, and I've been studying in England since the age of 11. This book is a historical fantasy so Albion is meant to be a kind of alternate Victorian England, and the author's mentioned that she thinks of Melei as a version of one of the Polynesian islands. A lot of what Jessamin said about missing the sun and the warmth of her home, and how she knew Alben better than she knew her own native language Melenese – I really understood how she felt! This moment on p.21 sealed my love for the book:
I don’t even think in Melenese, and most of my dreams are narrated in the harsher tones of this country’s language.
It makes a soul lonely when even your tongue has no home.
I honestly just loved that the book was about a PoC main character living in the country which colonised hers, and we got to read about her awesome opinions on how much colonialism sucks, and also how much she hates being treated like an exotic creature. A YA book which explores postcolonialism and racial fetishism!! HOW UNBELIEVABLY AWESOME.
Jessamin is just so inquisitive and clever – she's really into maths and science but sadly they don't think that a woman should learn those things, so she picks history instead, but she still studies all the maths she can in her spare time. And when she comes into contact with magic, even though she can't personally do magic herself because she lacks noble blood, she studies it anyway and she thinks of a way to manipulate it. SHE'S THE BEST. She's such a strong character! She goes through so much in this book but she's incredibly brave and she never backs down from danger.
The romance was wonderful as well. SO SWOONY AND HEART-MELTY. Finn is as charming and dashing as any book boyfriend should be. I loved all the conversations between him and Jessamin. The two of them clearly have so much chemistry from the get-go, and their interactions just spark and leap off the page. Such sharp dialogue!
Jessamin also makes a friend called Eleanor, who is JUST ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL. Oh my god, I adoooore Eleanor. She makes everyone think that she's just a simple girl who's into gossip, and she is totally into gossip but when you're part of the aristocratic and political circle, gossip is IMPORTANT. And Eleanor is really good at gossip. She's also just a plain delight and a really good friend to Jessamin, and I loved how often the two of them complimented each other, and how whenever Jessamin told Eleanor how smart she was, Eleanor was just like "I KNOW RIGHT I'M SO AWESOME". That's the kind of girl I like! The kind that recognises how awesome she is.
The villain in this book is also pretty villainous and he absolutely repulsed me while managing to be horrifically intriguing. Villains in books don't often really leave an impression on me but this one certainly did.
My one complaint is that the ending was really quite rushed, but I loved the twist. I could have done with a bit more explanation on some things, but I still think this book still did pretty well for a standalone. It managed to draw me in and create an enchanting world and a set of very convincing characters and pull off a fairly tight plot. I didn't feel like any character we were introduced to in this book went wasted. It wasn't the kind of book with so many characters you're wondering what they're all doing here, but pretty much every character had a role to play. I just really loved it from start to finish and I WANT EVERYONE TO READ THIS. EVERYONE. (And despite admiring it as a standalone, I wouldn't mind a whole series of this. I really wouldn't.)