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Alex Bell – Jasmyn

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An epic tale of love, dark magic, and mystery, told in a reasonably short time.

Publisher: Gollancz (Orion Books)
Pages: 311
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-0-575-08029-4
First Published: 2009
Date Reviewed: 24th June 2010
Rating: 4.5/5

Jasmyn’s husband is dead, that’s all there is to it – there were no warnings, no signs, it was sudden, he’s gone. And now Jasmyn’s started to experience strange things – swans falling from the sky at his funeral, photographs of her wedding day being altered so that she no longer looks happy, cruel people around her. We say that fairy tales aren’t real, but Jasmyn knows better and, actually, fairy tales may be exactly what this is about.

Jasmyn boasts a fantastic story. In it Bell has blended reality with fantasy. There are a lot of fantasy books that are strictly fantasy, and then there are some that mix our world with a pretend one, but in these latter cases the worlds are more clear-cut. What Bell has done here, not unlike in The Ninth Circle but certainly to better effect (because of course in The Ninth Circle the fantasy was theological, therefore more knowingly realistic than unicorns and fairies) is set the bare basics of the story – Jasmyn herself – in our world and then tease at the edges until they fray and become twisted around the make-believe. The fairy world in Jasmyn isn’t happy-go-lucky – this is a dark fantasy – and the dark element aids the blending further. This is in part due to the fact that the actual fairy world comes into the story only a few times because the emphasis is on keeping the characters away from it. Similarly to Lex Trent Versus The Gods, Bell has included a range of different tales from different countries. I found the book made me re-think all the things we are told are myths. Is our world really as black and white as we’re taught?

Jasmyn, the character, is an interesting one. Bell has made her albino and so alone this brings in the question of whether or not Jasmyn may be mystical herself. To think about it beggars the question of whether this would be acceptable in real life because, like anyone whose looks differ from the “norm”, albinos would not like to be singled out in such a way – but then at the same time some might find it empowering to see themselves in the way that Jasmyn has been taught by her husband. The inclusion of Liam’s love for Jasmyn and his understanding of her is a great attribute of the book. The character will likely appeal to anyone who has a disability or has trouble with social expectations for her internal discussions about how she is accepted.

In general Jasmyn is a fine narrator, but at times she can be irritating. It suits the telling of the story to have her not realising or understanding things every now and then, but although it may provide more space for extra subplots it causes the story to slow down. It suits its length but it’s slower compared to Bell’s other work. Some of the dialogue is superfluous as are some internal conflicts within Jasmyn’s mind.

Through the character of Ben, Bell has re-used the same idea she did for Stephomi in her previous book. Is he good or is he bad? She writes this element well so that although it may basically be a repetition – and a very apparent one – it never feels stale, and most importantly is, as with The Ninth Circle, a big reason to keep reading.

Bell brought up differences in the form of Jasmyn, but she doesn’t stop at looks. Included in the book is a laboratory and it is here that Bell proudly stands up and makes a statement about animal testing. It doesn’t impact the plot, and she hasn’t gone overboard. She has made her point but now the story will continue, and actually, the way it’s been done makes it one of the most memorable parts of the book.

Jasmyn takes the fairytale and turns it on it’s head. It takes the legend away from it’s comfort zone and often to some very unexpected locations. And it’s believable because of the extent of the mundane throughout.

I defy anyone not to travel with Jasmyn into this parallel world – even if it’s not quite the happy place you would expect.

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Rabid Fox

September 13, 2010, 5:13 pm

This is a book that has been on my wish list for a while. Nice review, which makes me want to read it all the more.

Charlie: Oh yes, I thoroughly recommend it. It’s due to be one of the books in my giveaway.

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