Today, I am delighted to kick off the blog tour for Yaba Badoe’s new book A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars, published by Zephyr.
Fourteen-year-old Sante knows she is special. She has certain powers, talents, that set her apart from most people. She’s an able circus performer who can ride bareback and perform gymnastic tricks on the back of her faithful white stallion Taj. She’s athletic, flexible and fast, both in body and mind. But in addition, she can read other people’s thoughts, and often is aware of sounds, visions and presences that are the ghosts from her past trying to help guide her into the future.
Mama Rose discovers Sante washed up on a beach in a sea chest – the sole survivor of a shipwreck carrying migrants and refugees from Africa – and saves her, adding the little girl to her band of travellers. However, Mama Rose knows that this baby is someone special, not just from the note from her mother but also from the bamboo flute, golden bangle and diamond-encrusted sword that have journeyed with Sante across the ocean. And one day, when two mysterious men appear at one of the circus’s performances, Mama Rose knows it’s time to tell Sante of her past so she can fulfil her destiny.
Yaba Badoe’s novel deftly entwines some of the tropes of the fairy-tale tradition with the tragic realities of Europe’s contemporary migrant situation. Describing with brutal honesty the sight of washed-up bodies of drowned migrants on the beaches of Spain, just metres away from “women tanning themselves”, Badoe doesn’t flinch from presenting the reader with the uncomfortable truth that we’re living in a time where desperation washes up on our shores. As Mama Rose tells Sante about her own journey: “‘From the cargo they bundled into this chest here, your people were rich, Sante… People from Africa. They must have wanted to start a new life over here. If times were bad then, they’re even worse now. Floods, famine, drought … every disaster you can think of, there’s worse to come’.”
A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars is set in southern Spain, and opens with the troupe performing in Cadiz, an area that has seen many migrant landings in recent weeks. Sante has been lucky – she’s had Mama Rose and Priss, her ornithological protectress, watching out for her for over a decade. Now it appears it’s her turn to do something great and the reader has no doubt that Sante is the person to do it. She has the typical traits of a young adult heroine – she’s brave, at time to the point of foolishness, she’s strong-willed and she’s also loyal, although she insists on discovering who her mysterious followers are when Mama Rose would rather she run away with the rest of the troupe to safety. Sante has no hesitation in facing up to her destiny and does so with admirable spirit.
Yaba Badoe’s writing flows fast and fluently. The story cracks along and the reader is swept into the intrigue at a breathless pace. The dialogue is well written – there are some concessions to Sante’s way of speaking (or writing!) such as dropping letters off the beginning of some words, but this doesn’t get in the way at all or distract – it’s all part of her quick-thinking character. Badoe also manages to evoke a real sense of place in the book – I know this part of Spain well and felt I was travelling alongside Sante during her adventures.
A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars is one of the most interesting and unusual debuts I’ve read for a while. Badoe throws you straight into the action and yet manages to also infuse the story with magical qualities and rhythm that separates it from, for example, the relentless and exhausting fear of the books in The Hunger Games trilogy. The world that Badoe describes in her book is, sadly, very real to any of us who watch or read the news, but the fairy-tale element leaves the reader with the hope that things can change for the better.
A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars is published in hardback on 7 September 2017, priced £10.99: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jigsaw-Fire-Stars-Yaba-Badoe/dp/1786695480/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1504093743&sr=8-1&keywords=jigsaw+of+fire+and+stars
and Head of Zeus: http://headofzeus.com/books/jigsaw-fire-and-stars
Follow Yaba Badoe on Twitter: @yaba_badoe
Follow Leo Nickolls (illustrator) on Twitter: @leonickolls