2 out of 5 stars | GR review
What the hell did I just read? Interesting concept. Lackluster everything else with a few good sprinkles of Kashmir, the best character in this whole damn ordeal.
I would have enjoyed this book if the writing were something different. The concept of a time-traveling ship and alternate realities based on cartography was very interesting as a premise. One of the main detractors of my enjoyment for this book was the narration from Nix. Heilig seems to be going for a writing style where everything is implied through dialogue. While some of her dialogue is pretty great, I had to read a passage multiple times to make sure I was picking up what Heilig was putting down. The passages without dialogue were hard to get through even on skim-mode. I had to rely on YA recaps to help me figure out what was going on. I could infer what happened and why, but I was never 100% sure.
Here’s another review that describes the issue I had pretty well with the writing: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show…
Nix’s narration was uninspiring and underwhelming. Objectively, I suppose there is supposed to be an arc of her deciding whether to stay on the Temptation or not, but I was never convinced that she would actually leave the ship for Blake of all people. I would have bought her relationship with her dad more if 1) she stopped refering him with 3 separate titles: dad/father, captain and Slate; 2) if her father didn’t talk like a fucking child all the time “Nixie this Nixie that” 3) and also Slate just didn’t feel like someone who took Nix under his wing for 16 years.
Going onto Blake. He was the most shoe-horned love interest I’ve read in recent times. I know Kashmir is the only viable way to go. The thing is, if the writing were different, I would have found Blake compelling in theory. In practice, I felt he didn’t need to be here. Kashmir, on the other hand was THE BEST CHARACTER. It’s a shame we don’t get anything in his perspective because it would have been VASTLY more interesting than anything from Nix. If there is one character with anything resembling depth, it would be this guy. From the dialogue, it’s implied there’s a lot more going on under the surface than a charming thief. He seen some shit. He also has the most memorable quotes of any character. His friendship with Nix was nice, but from the very start I thought they were dating when they really weren’t LOL.
I’m still not sure about how the Joss timeline works (I had to use YA recaps again to make sure!) It was a nice touch to include a bit of Chinese numerology into this story. I’m not sure how five/wu sounds like me/I (wo/我) in Chinese. Which dialect if at all??? I was scrambling on wikitionary to look up different pronounciations of the pronoun “I” in Chinese languages because I didn’t think that was the case in Mandarin or Cantonese. I have definitely heard five (wu/五) sounding like wu (无/無) or “not” as Joss says. But Wu and Wo don’t sound alike at all. They have completely different vowels. That’s some shakey transliteration.
Also if Joss’s from the 200’s BC when Qin Shi Huang was buried, I’d struggle to make sense of how she adapted from an ancient Chinese language to a more modern language in the 1880s Hawaii. It’s unclear what kind of Chinese the book is referring to because there’s no reference of which Chinese they use with Joss. *shrugs* Plus Nix using Ni hao in an ancient Chinese tomb is funny to me. Modern Mandarin wasn’t a thing in the 200s BC, was it? But in the end a nice touch to include something from my family’s hometown Xi’an, even if I don’t get how linguistics in this book are so streamlined. Then again, does anybody really know what ancient Chinese languages sounded like lmao.
It’s also an interesting touch that this book takes place in Hawaii in the 1880s. It’s not really a setting you see often in YA. They do mention the political situation in the kingdom of Hawaii and the threat of future annexation. I also liked how they poked fun at Victorians a bit too. The added diversity of the ship crew isn’t done in a ham-fisted way like *wink wink look at how clever and inclusive I’m being*. The characters simply just ARE what they are. Bless Heidi Heilig for at least doing that. I guess you could argue the other way that why have “diversity” at all if you don’t make it relevant to the story and characters, but I’d say this never felt like a “I added this, I’ve checked all the boxes, now I can stop trying” situation either. For Nix in particular it’s not as if she were raised by her Chinese side of the family.
So there it is, 2 stars. 1 for the concept, another for Kashmir. I own both this and the sequel, so it seems like a waste not to read the next one if only for Kashmir.