Thursday, 3 January 2013

Review: The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman

Jade Moon is a Fire Horse – the worst sign in the Chinese zodiac for girls, said to make them stubborn, reckless, and far too headstrong. While her family despairs of marrying her off, she dreams of traveling far beyond her tiny village, living out a story as big as her imagination.

Then a young man named Sterling Promise offers Jade Moon and her father an incredible opportunity: the chance to go to America. As they travel, Sterling Promise's smooth manners and Jade Moon's impulsive nature strike sparks again and again. But America in 1923 doesn't welcome Chinese immigrants, and when they are detained at Angel Island – the so-called "Ellis Island of the West," – Jade Moon uncovers a betrayal that destroys all her dreams. To get into America, much less survive there, she will have to use all her stubbornness and strength to break a new path... one so brave and dangerous that only a Fire Horse girl can imagine it.

The Fire Horse Girl is an amazing debut from Kay Honeyman! It's engaging right from the first page, and it definitely exceeded my expectations of it. This is a must-read for any historical fiction lovers. I found myself drawn into the story, like I was there with Jade Moon throughout her journey. 

I loved the Chinese culture that was present throughout the book. Since I've lived in Singapore my whole life, I know quite a bit about old Chinese traditions, and Kay Honeyman nailed it. Everything from the bound feet to the myths were spot-on, and I loved the Cowherd and Weaver Girl story! I haven't heard of that one before, and it really intrigued me. It has a similar style to other Chinese mythical stories I've read, with the love story and the ending. I searched it up after reading The Fire Horse Girl, and I found out that it is actually one of the four most famous folktales of ancient China, equal in importance to Greek myths like The Golden Fleece! This folktale is alluded to throughout the novel, and I liked how Jade Moon based her most important decisions on it.

Jade Moon is an awesome protagonist - she's brave, witty, and very headstrong. She doesn't back down from anything no matter what, and she never shows fear in the face of danger. In this sense she's actually the complete opposite of Chinese women in her time. All Jade Moon wants is freedom, and she sees her opportunity in Sterling Promise, who agrees to take her to America to start a new life. When things don't go as planned, the decisions Jade Moon makes are so bold that they made my eyebrows rise and my jaw drop in surprise! She is as compassionate as she is stubborn, though, and that's what makes her so likeable. Her actions later on in the novel made me admire her even more than I already did.

Sterling Promise is her uncle's adopted son, and he is the one who takes Jade Moon and her father to America. Or at least, to Angel Island. He has his flaws - initially, he's selfish and condescending, but I think that the events in the novel changed him for the better. I like who he became by the end of the book, and his development as a character was great to watch.

I think my favourite character apart from Jade Moon would have to be Neil, the bodyguard of the Hons - the family Jade Moon lived with for many months in America. Neil is appointed to teach Jade Moon how to fight. He is gruff and terse at the beginning, but he warms to her after a while. His lines are usually pretty hilarious, and he even had me laughing out loud at a few lines!

In The Fire Horse Girl, we find out that America was viewed as a land of freedom and endless possibilities, and yet it was so difficult for Chinese immigrants to enter the country. The things they had to go through at Angel Island as well as the horrific conditions Chinese women had to live under in America shocked me. I honestly had no idea it was that bad back then. One line that Jade Moon said about America was stuck in my head long after I finished the novel.
This would be the place, a place of possibilities, a place where I could look into people's eyes.
This told me a lot. It told me how desperate she was to finally gain the freedom she desired, and it also said a lot about Chinese culture - how women were supposed to be submissive and not raise their voices to anyone.

The Fire Horse Girl has plenty of action and adventure in it, something that came as a pleasant surprise. I clearly was not expecting it to turn out the way it did! The ending was perfect, and it left no loose strings. Kay Honeyman has written a fantastic debut, and I will now pick up anything she writes in the future. The writing is captivating, the characters are memorable, and the plot is paced perfectly. Don't miss out on this one!

*Thank you to Kay Honeyman for providing me with a copy for review*

Rating: 4/5

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