Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White - “I did my best to keep you from crossing paths with this world. And I shall do my best to protect you now that you have.”
Jessamin has been an outcast since she moved from her island home of Melei to the dreary country of Albion. Everything changes when she meets Finn, a gorgeous, enigmatic young lord who introduces her to the secret world of Albion’s nobility, a world that has everything Jessamin doesn’t—power, money, status…and magic. But Finn has secrets of his own, dangerous secrets that the vicious Lord Downpike will do anything to possess. Unless Jessamin, armed only with her wits and her determination, can stop him. From Goodreads.
The day Cynthia of Afterwritten posted her review highly praising Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, I bought my own copy. It had been a really long time since I had read any high fantasy YA, and with such praise from Cynthia, I was sure it was going to be amazing. Sadly for me, it was just ok.
Jessamin has left her island of Melei to go to Albion, a grey and sunless country, to further her education. Because of her darker skin and hair, she is scorned and constantly called "island rat". But then she meets Finn; a beautiful, charming, aristocrat who takes a shine to Jessamin after saving her from an attack. Finn can't seem to stay away from Jessa, and soon she finds herself caught in the middle of a power struggle. For the nobility have magic in their blood, and the dangerous minister of defence, Lord Downpike wants more power, and believes Finn has the key. With more power, Lord Downpike believes Albion can take over and colonise the Iverian continent, just like they did to Melei. Now Finn has a weakness in Jessamin, and Lord Downpike will do whatever it takes to get what he wants.
Firstly, can I just take a moment to say wow over that cover. It's absolutely gorgeous! So, so pretty! It's just a shame the book didn't wow me as much. It's not that Illusions of Fate is a bad story, I just think it's my personal taste when it comes to high fantasy. I like my high fantasy - even stand alones - longer and with a lot more detail. Illusions of Fate fell a little short for me.
However, Jessamin is a protagonist to admire. She has moved to a completely different country, a place she knows she will be thought of and dismissed as "other" for her race, for the purpose of learning more. Despite being very intelligent, because she's female, she can't study the advanced mathematics she longs to study, so she's studying history instead, while learning what she can in advanced mathematics in her spare time - not that she has much of it, having to work most hours outside of school at the hotel where she is staying, just to afford her servant's room. Jessamin is strong-willed and determined, and she won't let anyone tell her that she is undeserving of the future she wants because of her gender or race. She's formidable, and she's completely wonderful.
Jessa also has one hell of a backbone. She stands up to Finn when he treats her in anyway she deems unacceptable, whether it be him trying to wrap her up in cotton wool or control her in an effort to keep her safe. She makes her own choices and her own mistakes and she owns them. She won't be the a quiet little mouse that is happy to do whatever a man tells her to, simpering and without a thought of her own, like most of the women of Albion seem to do. She knows her own mind, and will not be swayed just because Finn is pretty and nice to her, or because of her ever-developing feelings for him - even if he genuinely does have her best interests at heart.
That makes it sound like Finn isn't a great guy, but that's not the case. The very reason that Finn notices Jessa is because she's her own person and stands up to him. Finn is actually a very caring person; not only does he care about Jessa, but about the world as a whole. He knows is Lord Downpike gets what he wants, there will be war and people will die. Albion, with Lord Downpike at the lead, will invade and force their power over anyone in their way, until it has conquered. Finn is the only person standing in the way of Lord Downpike's schemes, and until Jessa, he's put everything else aside to make sure the uneasy peace continues. I didn't really feel the romance, though. Finn seems to get very attached to Jessa so quickly, it's almost insta-love but without me feeling the emotion. It lacked for me; I didn't feel any real chemistry or tension between the two, despite the numerous times it was supposed to be there. I just didn't feel it.
And there wasn't enough world building for me. I like the politics of high fantasy, the manoeuvring and out-manoeuvring, struggles on a large scale. I think I would have preferred it if Lord Downpike got what he wanted, and then people went against him to try and stop him. It would have been a much bigger fight, a bigger struggle. In Illusions of Fate, it's pretty much Finn against Downpike, and that's it, with Jessa standing by Finn's side. I didn't understand the magic fully, we didn't get too see that much of it in action, and in all, it was just a bit too nice. Even when he was being nasty, Lord Downpike was still very polite and well mannered. I know that's supposed to make him more sinister, but it just didn't work for me. There just wasn't enough of too many elements for me. I've read another high fantasy stand alone novel, so I know it can work, but Illusions of Fate just didn't cover what makes a high fantasy for me. This is more like high fantasy-light.
Illusions of Fate is a good story, but just not good enough for me, sadly. Do read some more reviews before deciding against reading it, though. It might be your cup of tea.
Published: 9th September 2014
Kiersten White's Website