Title: The Girl from Everywhere (2016)
Author: Heidi Heilig
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Read: 13th – 16th February 2018
Genre: fantasy; young-adult; historical fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
“It was the kind of August day that hinted at monsoons, and the year was 1774, though not for very much longer.
Sixteen-year-old Nix Song is a time-traveller. She, her father and their crew of time refugees travel the world aboard The Temptation, a glorious pirate ship stuffed with treasures both typical and mythical. Old maps allow Nix and her father to navigate not just to distant lands, but distant times – although a map will only take you somewhere once. And Nix’s father is only interested in one time, and one place: Honolulu 1868. A time before Nix was born, and her mother was alive. Something that puts Nix’s existence rather dangerously in question… Nix has grown used to her father’s obsession, but only because she’s convinced it can’t work. But then a map falls into her father’s lap that changes everything. And when Nix refuses to help, her father threatens to maroon Kashmir, her only friend (and perhaps, only love) in a time where Nix will never be able to find him. And if Nix has learned one thing, it’s that losing the person you love is a torment that no one can withstand. Nix must work out what she wants, who she is, and where she really belongs before time runs out on her forever.” (Synopsis from the publisher)
“Those stars dimmed as we slipped into the Margins of the map, the slender threshold between one place and the next, where India in 1774 ran out and the next shore appeared. […] the seas in the Margins were unpredictable—the currents mercurial and the winds erratic—and passage was always rougher the farther afield we traveled. And, very rarely, there were ghost ships in the fog, captained by those who had found the way in, but not the way out.”
Considering the fantastical concept of The Girl from Everywhere allowed its characters to explore all manner of historical periods and locales, Heidi Heilig was extremely skilled at painting the evocative picture of each and every location, from the very first page when we see Nix abandoned in a crowded bazaar in Calcutta in 1774 and contemplating her next journey at sea to twentieth-century New York City. The story sees its characters navigating many settings, geographical and social, from Calcutta to New York to China (surprisingly the Terracotta Army makes a rather chilling appearance), but the most pleasantly surprising for me was 19th-century Honolulu, a setting which I had precisely zero previous context for and so was delighted to find the story spending a large portion of its time in Hawaii. I felt like I could picture the streets that Nix walked, both in the Chinatown areas and the more “upper class” neighbourhoods. In fact, The Girl from Everywhere had a wonderful commentary underlying this, portraying the hypocrisies in the upper classes who thought themselves above the law and criminality, meanwhile the lower classes were tarred with the brush of poverty and criminality purely because of their low social status. The novel navigated these different worlds as deftly as it did the several different time periods and geographical locations that the crew of the ship Navigated.
“He must have seen it in my face—the admiration—and he put his hands behind his head, feigning a stretch, giving me a smug look. I rolled my eyes. ‘You’re blocking the view.’
‘I am the view, amira,’ he said, framing himself with his hands—his crisp linen shirt, his careless hair—then laughed.”
When it came to characters, I’m going to have to start with Kashmir who was a delight. Painted as a bit of a scallywag, a rapscallion, a grinning, charming rake, Kash was so obviously the smirking and snarking best friend that could charm the pants off anyone, most of all the reader. His interaction with Nix proved to not only be hilarious and, at times, heart-warming, but he also proved to add to the already interesting dynamic between Nix and her father, Slate. I won’t say more for fears of spoilers but suffice it to say Heilig worked hard to make the relationship between Kash and Nix shine on the page and she certainly accomplished that tenfold. I could completely buy their dynamic and root for them, especially when Heilig allowed for plenty of more serious moments amidst the snark when Kash’s entire devil-may-care demeanour suddenly changed into something much softer and more serious, making it obvious that he cared about, and for, Nix’s well-being for all he may seem fairly blase and unaffected as a person.
” ‘[Slate] doesn’t have any idea what will happen to me, and I don’t think it matters to him either way.’
‘Amira …’ His expression was mixed—sympathy and disgust—and I couldn’t bear it. […] Kashmir gripped my arm, whispering fiercely in my ear. ‘Why do you help him?’
I watched my father swinging his briefcase and grinning ear to ear, his joy visible, so rare, and effervescent as fine champagne.
‘How can I say no, Kash?’ I murmured. ‘She’s dead because of me.’ “
Of course, as this is a YA fantasy, there’s also a conventional love interest in Blake, the “good guy” to Kash’s “bad boy” if you will, and he fulfils the third corner of this stereotypical love triangle just fine. However, to be honest, the greatest value I found in Blake was that he showed Nix more of the island of Hawaii, exploring the “wilderness” and venturing into the forest to show her waterfalls and less-travelled paths. He also served his purpose for providing a funny foil (and target) for Kash’s bantering. As a love interest, Blake never stood much chance of winning my heart at least, especially not since he was introduced after I’d had time to start shipping to the contrary, but I’m glad for his inclusion because he did end up being more use to the story than I thought he would be.
“Blake clenched his fists, and Pilikia danced under the tight rein.
‘You expected honor among thieves?’
‘It’s more common than honor among gentlemen!’ Kash retorted.”
Speaking of Nix’s father, due to the concept of the Navigation and the time travelling linked to maps, Nix and Slate’s relationship is one of the most complex I have read in quite some time, especially for a young-adult fantasy novel. There is a certain sense of megalomania to Slate’s desire to return to a certain location and a very specific time period and the impact this has on his relationship with his daughter is so raw and real that I found myself genuinely invested in the growth of not only Nix as a protagonist but as Slate as a potential antagonist of sorts too due to their differing outlooks which meant they were often working at cross-purposes. The fact that I found myself empathising and sympathising with Slate at some points, despite the complications this would cause Nix (who a reader is obviously aligned with since she’s the protagonist), shows how skilful Heidi Heilig’s character development of the both of them was throughout the course of this novel. Nothing is ever easy for these characters, and I do tend to like authors who aren’t afraid to subject even their most beloved of characters to whole lot of trials and tribulations.
“Kashmir was right about the captain; when he wanted something, he did not stop until he had it. No matter what it cost. No matter who it hurt.”
When it comes down to it, I was never not going to love The Girl from Everywhere and, with buzz words like this, no one could possibly be surprised: pirates, heist, time travelling ship, political intrigue, maps. Who wouldn’t be intrigued? Add in a funny, bantering dynamic between the main male and female character and I’m sold. What I wasn’t quite expecting was just how much I did end up enjoying The Girl from Everywhere and how well executed I would find the fantastical concept to be – truly, Heidi Heilig has pulled off something wonderful, and I can’t wait to get to the sequel, The Ship Beyond Time.
“I could never give up the myths, the maps, the ship that had shaped me.
Blake’s home might be paradise, but my home was the Temptation.”