A jigsaw of fire and stars by Yaba Badoe
Zephyr, 2017. ISBN 9781786697981
(Ages: 14+) Highly recommended. The story starts with a treasure casket thrown into the sea as a ship sinks. Inside is a pillow of gold dust, and another of diamonds, a bamboo flute, a jewel studded dagger, and a tapestry cloth wrapped around... a baby, a black African baby, who is blissfully unaware of the fire and oil, and people drowning around her. It sounds like the beginning of a fantasy story, a foundling washed up on a shore and rescued by a circus troupe, brought up to dance on a pony in the circus ring. There are many elements of a fantasy adventure: the eagle Priss who guards and protects the baby floating in the casket and remains at her call whenever she is in danger; there are the circus twins, Cobra, the green-eyed boy who can call up snakes, and Cat the fierce girl who hurls daggers. Other characters make up the bizarre troupe - Mama Rose, Redwood, Midget Man, Mimi and Bizzie Lizzie. These are the people that Sante knows as family, yet there is another family somewhere, ghosts in the shadows, that come to her in dreams, a mystery that she yearns to find the answer to. But seeking the answers puts her and her friends in grave danger.
However this is not some story set in a mystical other world, it is here and now in Spain, and reminders of the modern world intrude, things like television, mobile phones, the Internet. There are police, the 'black-boots', and there are malevolent criminals like Miguel and Grey Eyes. The story uncovers serious issues such as 'illegal migrants', human traffickers and sex slavery. Sante and the circus troupe are just one group of people trying to live 'beyond the grid', avoiding attention and possible arrest, not sure who to trust, staying together in their tight little group and always moving on.
A jigsaw of fire and stars is a very beautiful magical story encompassing modern day issues in a way that may be easier for younger people to deal with. It is completely enthralling, and would be a book enjoyed by both teenage readers and adults. The author Yaba Badoe is a Ghanaian-British filmmaker whose focus has been on stories of black African women, but often also incorporating traditional Ghanaian folktale. It makes for a unique approach to telling a story of complex issues that is very imaginative and also satisfying.