Book Review: The Girl from Everywhere, Heidi Heilig (2016)

February 15th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

[Insert Fangirling Gif Here]

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through Edelweiss.)

Nix’s life began in Honolulu in 1868. Since then she has traveled to mythic Scandinavia, a land from the tales of One Thousand and One Nights, modern-day New York City, and many more places both real and imagined. As long as he has a map, Nix’s father can sail his ship, The Temptation, to any place, any time. But now he’s uncovered the one map he’s always sought—1868 Honolulu, before Nix’s mother died in childbirth. Nix’s life—her entire existence—is at stake. No one knows what will happen if her father changes the past. It could erase Nix’s future, her dreams, her adventures . . . her connection with the charming Persian thief, Kash, who’s been part of their crew for two years. If Nix helps her father reunite with the love of his life, it will cost her her own.

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

Heidi Heilig’s debut novel (dear gods, can this really be her first novel? it’s so damn shiny!) The Girl from Everywhere is the sort of book that makes me wish I was a more eloquent writer – if only so I could craft a review that does it justice. As it is, I’m fighting the urge to post a whole slew of my favorite Firefly gifs and call it a day.

Instead of the usual review, allow me to bullet point this bad girl. (The bullet points keep me on point and spoiler-free.) Here are twelve reasons why you should read The Girl from Everywhere, like, yesterday.

1. The seamless blend of reality and fantasy.

The Girl from Everywhere is nothing if not an epic mashup of genres – and some of my favorites, to boot. Time travel screams SF to me, and yet Slate’s ability to Navigate is also wonderfully fantastical. We have historical fiction and even some travel writing in the Hawaiian backdrop, and along with more mundane settings, like contemporary New York City, The Temptation also visits places that only exist in myth.

Though Slate is the one able to break through the Margins of a map, to reach a different time and place, it’s Nix’s knowledge of history and mythology that truly steers the ship. Many of The Temptation’s voyages are in pursuit of the 1868 Honolulu map – or rather, in search of items that might make their quest more fruitful and convenient: a never-ending pitcher of wine from Greece, a bottomless bag from 1600s Wales, an army of terra cotta warriors from the Qin dynasty.

So very much to savor and explore after the story’s over and the wait for the sequel is driving you bonkers!

2. Nix + Kash.

Kashmir is an acrobatic Persian thief who sought refuge on The Temptation two years ago. Smooth, debonair, and oh-so-worldly, Kash is highly crushable. He’s also clearly in love with his BFF Nix, which is problematic for a number of reasons. Most notably: a) He is dependent on her father the Captain’s largess as long as he’s a member of the crew; b) Slate is volatile and apt to threaten that which Nix holds dear to get his way; and c) Kash hails from a mythical place, one which is at risk of disappearing should belief in it cease to exist. So their relationship is complicated, to say the least.

3. The mythic animals.

The ship’s motley crew isn’t just human, but non-human as well. Among the wonders you’ll find on The Temptation: sky herring, taken straight from a Nordic myth about the Northern Lights, used to light the way (they’re partial to bee pollen from Whole Foods); fire salamanders from 1800s French folklore, handy for heating the cookstove; and of course Nix’s pet sea dragon (see #7 below).

4. Spacetime pirates!

Firefly meets Back to the Future – at sea!

5. A bank heist so epic it might just change the course of history.

In exchange for the elusive 1868 Honolulu map, a shadowy group of American expats demands that Slate and his crew rob the Hawaiian Royal Treasury of $2 million – or all its gold and valuables – in 1884. Their end game? Destabilize the monarchy, thus laying the groundwork for the annexation of Hawaii. Like much of the story, this outlandish, Oceans Eleven-type heist is firmly rooted in history.

6. The breathtaking Hawaiian setting.

Heidi Heilig grew up in Hawaii (“riding horses and raising peacocks”), and her love of the island’s natural beauty permeates every word and phrase – from the glassy shores of Princess Pauahi’s estate to the wild mountains, haunted by the Hu’akai Po, The Night Marchers. Also impressive (and infectious) is her knowledge of Hawaii’s history, which imbues the story with a necessary sense of compassion and social justice.

7. It’s got Swag with a capital “S.”

Swag is the name of the sea dragon who once belonged to Nix’s mother, Lin; Nix bought him off of Joss during one of their many fortuitous meetings. Though he costs a small fortune to maintain – his diet consisting mostly of pearls – Swag earns his keep, and then some: during their trip to ancient China to amass an army, he saves Nix from certain death at the hands of a clay artisan brought to life.

Better still: HE LIVES TO FIGHT ANOTHER DAY! (Thank you, Heidi, for not sending Swag to a farm upstate, where all literary dogs and dog-like creatures seem to end up.)

8. Joss is kind of a badass.

An opium den-turned-apothecary owner, Joss is highly adaptable and has an uncanny knack for rolling with the punches – including ones you can’t even begin to imagine. Joss is responsible for introducing Nix’s parents back in the day, when Lin packed pipes for a living and Slate was a frequent customer. Initially positioned as one of the story’s villains, the truth is that Nix might not exist if it wasn’t for Joss and her cunning machinations.

9. Time travel and its pesky paradoxes.

One of the things I love the most about this story are the uncertainties, which boggle the mind and provide a wellspring of tension. While Nix wants to see Slate happy (and drug-free – a state only achieved in the company of his beloved Lin), she doesn’t know if, in helping to change his past, she might unwittingly erase her future. Map after map threatens to unravel the life Nix has built upon The Temptation; yet, wracked with grief over her mother’s passing (Lin died in childbirth), Nix feels compelled to help just the same. This constant push and pull propels the story forward, leaving the reader rooting for Nix as a seemingly inevitable fate barrels down on her. Talk about yer roller coaster rides.

Likewise – and thanks to Kash’s mythical birthplace – Nix’s relationship with Kash is imbued with the same mixture of hope and anxiety. You can’t help but ship them – they are so clearly perfect together – and yet you fear for Nix’s heart, should Kash ever disappear into the ether. (Or is Nix’s belief in him enough to keep Kash in the here and now? THE POSSIBILITIES!)

10. An unexpected history lesson on American imperialism.

See #5 above. This is a story steeped in history – and not the pre-packaged, whitewashed version meant for popular consumption, either.

11. Heilig’s masterful writing.

To wit:

“We were sailing toward the edge of the map of Calcutta under a sky so starry it looked sugared; the night would never be as beautiful after the Industrial Revolution.”

“Hapai Hale. The very first hint of my existence was marked on the page. I was written into that map as a landmark.”

“It scandalized the foreigners, who only saw what they were looking for. The hula tells a story, but they weren’t listening.”

“I was a closed book, a rolled map, a dark territory, uncharted; I was surprised by my urgency, but after all, to be known was to exist.”

12. Diversity like whoah.

The crew of The Temptation was hand-plucked by Slate from different places in space (and time!), resulting in a crew that’s as diverse as it is talented:

Nix Song is half Chinese on her mother Lin’s side. Mom worked packing pipes in an opium den, which is where she met Slate. Slate is (presumably) white with blonde hair, a mess of tattoos, an addiction to opium, and a propensity to bouts of depression and blackouts. While Lin is native to 1800s Hawaii, Slate was born in New York City in 1965. Nix was born in Honolulu in 1868 in Auntie Joss’s opium den, but Slate whisked her away to The Temptation when she was just a baby.

First mate Bee is Na’ath, an ex-cattle herder from Sudan. Her wife Ayen died years before Bee joined the crew, but Ayen never truly left her; in accordance with Bee’s beliefs, Ayen continues to travel with Bee as her “ghost wife.” Bee often blames Ayen for trivial things: improper thoughts blurted aloud, or a chore gone wrong. When she was younger, a man – jealous of her marriage – attacked Bee, leaving her with a noose-like scar around her throat and a raspy voice.

Cook and lookout Rotgut is an ex-monk from China.

Kashmir came to the ship as a stowaway from the Vaadi Al-Maas (“Diamond Valley”), “a reference to the story of Sinbad and the Rocs.” At the time, The Temptation was using a French map of Persia circa 1740. Kashmir has “golden skin” and dark curls and is fluent in Farsi, Arabic, English and French. While in Honolulu circa 1884, he and Nix are subjected to a slew of racial slurs by a drunken boxer. And this is hardly the first time Kash has been treated unfairly because of his skin color; as Nix/Heilig keenly notes, “No matter the era, cops never liked Kashmir.”

Additionally, Auntie Joss is Chinese, and we meet several indigenous Hawaiians, such as Kalakaua, the last King of Hawaii, who Nix and Kash encounter at a bar while out drinking. Nix ruefully observes that the King, like so many of his kinsmen, will succumb to alcohol addiction.

Overall, I give this one a very strong 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 where necessary. I must admit that, about 60% of the way in, the breadth of maps floating around, coupled with the many shady agendas, started to confuse me a bit. But all was revealed in the end!

Also, as much as I adore Blake, I’m a little nervous about the potential love triangle that Heilig set up at the end. I don’t eschew love triangles en masse, but I will get stabby if Blake comes between Nix and Kash. WHO ARE CLEARLY MEANT TO BE, OKAY. Does Blake know what it feels like to have his very existence dependent on a crumbling piece of paper? Didn’t think so. (Caution: This book will give you FEELINGS.)

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

 

Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: YES!!! The crew of The Temptation was hand-plucked by Slate from different places in space (and time!), resulting in a crew that’s as diverse as it is talented:

Nix Song is half Chinese on her mother Lin’s side. Mom worked packing pipes in an opium den, which is where she met Slate. Slate is (presumably) white with blonde hair, a mess of tattoos, an addiction to opium, and a propensity to bouts of depression and blackouts. While Lin is native to 1800s Hawaii, Slate was born in New York City in 1965. Nix was born in Honolulu in 1868 in Auntie Joss’s opium den, but Slate whisked her away to The Temptation when she was just a baby.

First mate Bee is Na’ath, a ex-cattle herder from Sudan. Her wife Ayen died years before Bee joined the crew, but Ayen never truly left her; in accordance with Bee’s beliefs, Ayen continues to travel with Bee as her “ghost wife.” Bee often blames Ayen for trivial things: improper thoughts blurted aloud, or a chore gone wrong. When she was younger, a man – jealous of a her marriage – attacked Bee, leaving her with a noose-like scar around her throat and a raspy voice.

Cook and lookout Rotgut is an ex-monk from China.

Kashmir came to the ship as a stowaway from the Vaadi Al-Maas (“Diamond Valley”), “a reference to the story of Sinbad and the Rocs.” At the time, The Temptation was using a French map of Persia circa 1740. Kashmir has “golden skin” and dark curls and is fluent in Farsi, Arabic, English and French. While in Honolulu circa 1884, he and Nix are subjected to a slew of racial slurs by a drunken boxer. And this is hardly the first time Kash has been treated unfairly because of his skin color; as Nix/Heilig keenly notes, “No matter the era, cops never liked Kashmir.”

Additionally, Auntie Joss is Chinese, and we meet several indigenous Hawaiians, such as Kalakaua, the last King of Hawaii, who Nix and Kash encounter at a bar while out drinking. Nix ruefully observes that the King, like so many of his kinsmen, will succumb to alcohol addiction.

Heilig also imbues the story with a strong sense of social justice that’s rooted in her knowledge of Hawaiian history and American colonialism. See my review for more.

Animal-friendly elements: Yes and no. The crew collects and uses animals, but generally seems averse to killing them (see, e.g., the Siberian tigers – kidnapped to sell, but released into a safe-ish place once the deal feel through) – unless it’s for food. Swag the sea dragon is all kinds of awesome though. See my review for more.

 

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