Author: Alex Bell
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy, Fairy Tale
Publication Date: June 2009
Paperback: 320 pages
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel.
Why did I read this book: The first thing that caught my eye was the gorgeous cover art. It almost reminds me of old school Disney animation (I’m thinking Sleeping Beauty), but much darker, as though Dave McKean got his hands on it. Once the cover caught my eye, I read the synopsis and immediately thought to myself, I MUST have it! Gollancz was kind enough to provide us with a review copy, and I read through it in a single sitting…
Summary: (from AlexBell.co.uk)
One day, without warning, Jasmyn’s husband died of an aneurysm.
Since then, everything has been different.
Wrapped up in her grief, Jasmyn is trapped in a world without colour, without flavour – without Liam. But even through the haze of misery she begins to notice strange events. Even with Liam gone, things are not as they should be, and eventually Jasmyn begins to explore the mysteries that have sprung up after her husband’s death… and follow their trail back into the events of his life.
But the mysteries are deeper than Jasmyn expects, and are leading her in unexpected directions – into fairytales filled with swans, castles and bones; into a tale of a murder committed by a lake and a vicious battle between brothers; into a story of a lost past, and a stolen love. She’s entering a magical story.
You know those books, the ones that when you finish them you feel like your heart is being twisted in your chest – with love for how wonderful the book was, but inexplicable sorrow too because the book has come to an end? Such is Alex Bell’s beautiful, haunting contemporary fairy tale, Jasmyn.
Jasmyn is a 27-year old widow, her beloved husband of less than a year having just passed away by sudden aneurysm. Jasmyn’s world is thrown into darkness with Liam’s death, leaving her alone and lost in the world. And that’s when the strange things begin to happen – at Liam’s funeral, six black swans fall dead out of the sky. Jasmyn starts to feel that she is being watched by a shadowy figure, and a few weeks after the funeral, a strange pushy man shows up at Jasmyn’s home, completely unaware of Liam’s death and claiming to have known him through work. With the help of her brother-in-law, the strangely spiteful and cruel Ben, Jasmyn uncovers a whole secret life Liam kept from her, leading her down a path into a fantastic world filled with cursed swans, star-crossed love, and shocking revelation. Jasmyn learns that Liam has meddled with some potent magic, and more importantly, that Liam is not at all the man who she believed him to be.
I haven’t had the pleasure of reading Ms. Bell’s first novel, The Ninth Circle (a fact I will certainly have to remedy very soon), but Jasmyn stands alone as a beautifully conceived yarn from beginning to end. The titled character, Jasmyn, narrates this tale in the first person, allowing insight to her shattered heart following the death of her husband. Ms. Bell creates a character with the alluring blend of vulnerability and strength, despair and hope, so illusive to so many protagonists in the fantasy genre. Jasmyn’s self-perceptions, her fears and self-doubts are painfully real – she isn’t some ass kicking urban fantasy heroine, nor is she a delicate weepy flower. At times Jasmyn is frustratingly self-pitying, at times she is strong and conquers her fear; these failings only make Jasmyn that much more real as a character, and everything she experiences resonates as wholly genuine. The other character we truly get to know in this novel is her dead husband’s brother, Ben – an enigma of a character, especially in his coldness towards Jasmyn. Again, Ms. Bell’s characterizations are infinitely effective, and Ben is a character more endearing because of his flaws.
Though Ms. Bell has a knack for striking characterization, her greatest strength is her gift as a storyteller – though the writing at times struggles, the story she tells is truly, madly, deeply enthralling and more than enough to make up for any other shortcomings. Jasmyn is a mix of fairy tale, fantasy and character-driven thriller, and it is a potent brew. Though the “twist” in the plot can be seen coming from a mile away, the story is so damn compelling, with characters I was so passionately rooting for, I could care less. This is a fairy tale, after all, and that is part of Jasmyn‘s appeal – this is an emotional, appealing read and my inner romantic was incredibly moved by this book.
As for Jasmyn‘s drawbacks, these are largely technical and to some extent a matter of taste. The writing shortcomings include some clunky dialogue, liberal use of ellipses (the dreaded “…”) especially in the early chapters, and some pacing issues. I also wish that some of the fantasy elements (the swan knights, the myths, the eerie, enchanted castle) were explored further instead of just dumped into the story. That said, these gripes are easily overlooked considering the strengths of the book. In fact, these writing flaws only mean that Ms. Bell can get better as she hones her craft in further novels.
The bottom line is, I loved Jasmyn. I laughed, I cried, I felt that desperate heart-twisting sensation that only great stories can inspire. This is a fantastic, deceptively emotional novel, and one that I highly recommend.
Notable Quotes/Parts: Oh, the final heartbreaking revelation that Jasmyn makes in the catacombs of Paris is easily my favorite part of the novel. But I won’t spoil that for you…
Additional Thoughts: Seriously, this cover art is gorgeous. Here’s the cover for her first novel, The Ninth Circle which looks to be done by the same artist.
Verdict: Absolutely recommended. (In fact, I liked it enough that I’m sending it back over the pond to Ana in Cambridge, just because I think she’ll love it too.) Alex Bell is an author to watch, and I cannot wait to read what she comes up with next.
Rating: 8 Excellent
Reading Next: Slights by Kaaron Warren