I bought this book from Litjoy Crate for their reversible dust jacket (you can find the artwork on my Instagram), but I was intrigued by the idea of a “shadow player” and the Asian themes with French colonialism.
Jetta is part of a shadow player troupe, but that’s not all there is to her. In actuality, Jetta is a necromancer who imbues her puppets with spirits of the dead to make them move without strings. She and her family are trying to escape from Chakrana to Aquitan in order to escape the rebellion and find the spring the Mad King uses to cure his illness. After all, it’s not just Jetta’s necromancy abilities that haunt her. Along the way, she has to trust the son of the man chasing after her, Leo who is a smuggler. Her deals with him may not go the way she was hoping, however.
A young woman with a dangerous power she barely understands. A smuggler with secrets of his own. A country torn between a merciless colonial army, a terrifying tyrant, and a feared rebel leader. The first book in a new trilogy from Heidi Heilig.
Jetta’s family is famed as the most talented troupe of shadow players in the land. With Jetta behind the scrim, their puppets seem to move without string or stick a trade secret, they say. In truth, Jetta can see the souls of the recently departed and bind them to the puppets with her blood. But the old ways are forbidden ever since the colonial army conquered their country, so Jetta must never show never tell. Her skill and fame are her family’s way to earn a spot aboard the royal ship to Aquitan, where shadow plays are the latest rage, and where rumor has it the Mad King has a spring that cures his ills. Because seeing spirits is not the only thing that plagues Jetta. But as rebellion seethes and as Jetta meets a young smuggler, she will face truths and decisions that she never imagined—and safety will never seem so far away.
Heidi Heilig creates a world inspired by Asian cultures and French colonialism.
As much as I tried to like this book, it really, REALLY frustrated me at points. The story has so much potential, but I feel like a lot of it isn’t reached.
First off, Heilig stated that the Jetta is queer and with a mental illness (bipolar disorder). I saw neither of those things in this story. While the queer part may make itself known in the second book, I don’t see any reason why the author would choose to tell her audience that the heroine was queer. So, that disappointed me quite a bit. As for the bipolar disorder, I really didn’t see it. At no point was Jetta at an extreme high or low point, and there were only one or two times she showed signs of being bipolar. As for Jetta as a character, she was okay. She wasn’t the worst, but I didn’t really hear her voice or see her as a main character. She was just kinda there telling the story. At the very least, she wasn’t as bad as Leo who I felt didn’t get enough characterization in the story. He was there throughout the entire story, but by the end I couldn’t say I really knew him.
Secondly, this book really didn’t feel Asian to me. The cultures are mentioned a few times with temples and monks which I assume is harkening to Buddhism, but everything felt a lot more French. Now, if this book had excluded the point about Asian cultures, I could see this perfectly as a book about French colonialism with the oppression of the native cultures. However, I was expecting to see more Asian cultural references, and I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see them. Everything just felt very French, especially with the usage of the French words.
The last part is the fact that the book tries to do way too much. There’s sheet music and play scenes and it makes everything way too complicated. I didn’t know what was going on in the story very much at all because everything was getting interrupted for a different scene. It was all very frustrating to read through because I expected to get a story, but really I was reading three different kinds of things at once.
That being said, I really liked the uniqueness of this book and the general story itself. The idea of a necromancer fleeing persecution because of her abilities has a very real tone to it which I appreciated very much. I loved even more the fact that Jetta and her family were taking on the role of refugees and not part of the rebellion as so many other stories would probably have done. The story was a little slow to start but it had enough action to keep readers invested.
All in all, although this book has its problems, I do think it’s a good read with lots of creativity. I wish it didn’t try to be a story it wasn’t though in terms of mental illness and the asian culture.