A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe – Book Review

Title: A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars

Author: Yaba Badoe

Genre/Themes: Magical Realism, Fantasy, Young Adult, Refugee

Blurb from Goodreads

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.

My Review

I really wanted to love A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars. The premise sounds so good and the potential is all there. A book exploring the status of refugees, exploring the ugly depths of human trafficking… Fantastic right???

But I think where A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars went wrong for me was the actual genre. This is very much a book of the magical realism variety and in my opinion it didn’t work here. Magical realism in YA is actually one of my favourite genres so it saddens me to say this.

Unfortunately I found the story to be very hard to get into, and at times the writing just got very muddy and bogged down in metaphor as it mixed the fantastical with the harsh realities of what was actually occurring.

However, I did enjoy the main theme of the book: the MC Sante’s exploration into her identity was very touching and it was quite haunting to think here was this beautiful, bright young girl who viewed a bird as her maternal symbol because she did not know who she was. All she had were these vague memories of a shipwreck.

It just really brought home to me as a reader the risks that refugees have to take just to escape to freedom. How Sante’s birth family risked and lost their lives in the quest for a somewhere to feel safe, a place to call home.

But this emotional search for Sante’s true identity was marred by both a confusing plot line and supporting characters that I could never truly connect with because of the clunky writing style. I very much felt that this was a book missing those initial basic introductions to the cast which would have given the story greater context. The same can be said about the world that they inhabited. The author’s writing just made this version of our world far too perplexing with overwrought allegory.

Regrettably for me the ponderous writing style became rather tedious to read and difficult to engage with. Therefore the storyline of A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars fell flat and ultimately the book turned out to be rather dull.

I do think that the author Yaba Badoe has wonderful potential, but crucially they were in need of guidance with story editing regarding setting the scene for A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars (aka world building) and crafting a more coherent structure for the plot.


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