Author: Yaba Badoe
Publication Date: 7. September 2017
Rating: 3./5. Stars
Diversity: PoC (black), LGBT (sapphic relationship)
TW: anti-Romani slurs, pedophilia, people trafficking, child trafficking, sexual abuse, rape, racism, murder
Summary: 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.
Disclaimer: I received an e-copy of this book on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
First off let me preface my review with trigger warnings I wish I had before I started the book. There’s pedophilia mentioned, there’s child sexual abuse mentioned and there are some scenes that are just really uncomfortable in that manner. There are also some comments that are really victim-blame-y and it’s just really gross.
Now to the story. I really wanted to like this book. And I do like it. But I don’t love it. Partly at fault for that is the confusing writing style for sure. For a long time, I was not sure if those ghosts were real or imagination or how they really fit in the story. The magical elements got so mixed with reality that often I just couldn’t be sure what was really going on.
Despite that, I really grew to love Sante and Cobra and Cat. I also absolutely adored Scarlet.
And there’s already another one of my problems. We are told that Scarlet was abused since she was really young and so she is very angry at her abuser. Despite this, she is only ever regarded as a burden or something to fear and mistrust by Sante and Cobra. Cobra even once questions how they can be sure that she’s not actually in love with her abuser and wanted it. I had to stop reading for a while at that scene. While we do not at that point know about all of the abuse she faced (like the fact that he’s a pedophile that gave her parents access to drugs and gambling so he could easily get their daughter), I already suspected that her past was a really dark one and felt that she deserved way more compassion than she got.
And while I absolutely loved that Cat was immediately there for her, she was immediately there for her. They hadn’t even exchanged words and already acted as if they were in love. This was explained by some mystical and short-lived soulmate idea, but it didn’t make a lot of sense. In quite a lot of the relationships in the story there was only telling and barely any showing, which really made it unbelievable for me as a reader.
But now back to the main story. The mythology of this story is really amazing and I just wish there had been a bit more explanation.
Jess has a bird that watched over her since she was a little girl called Priss. Their relationship is really great and I really enjoyed reading about them. Another thing I liked was the circus life as it was really well taught and super interesting.
There’s also a lot of political commentary in this story, but it switches its focus quite often. Corrupt cops, refugees being herded off into camps if they even managed to get to shore and weren’t drowned, human trafficking, sexual abuse and living off the grid. And while I really enjoyed reading about all of this, in the end, it just made the story more confusing. It is simply too short to have such a huge plethora of issues in it and so none of them are fully fleshed out and I think the story suffers for that sadly.
There’s also the repeated use of g*psy. And while Sante once mentions that it’s a bad word, she keeps using it. Here’s a review about why it shouldn’t be used by non-Romani people. Another thing is that apparently barely any of these people have real names? Or at least Sante never learns them, as she refers to one of the adults in the circus constantly as Midget-Man. Get it, because we have to see that he’s a Little Person. Ugh. While other characters at least have okay code names, this one really rubbed me the wrong way.
All in all, this story has amazing folklore, interesting characters, and a quite interesting writing style. I think I would have enjoyed this story more if I had gone into it wanting to read magical realism and not a contemporary. However, there are also quite a few problems with this book and so I couldn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped I would.