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.
You can read more about this new author online at her website, or over at her blog.
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
AnaJune 15, 2009 at 4:32 am
Christina GJune 15, 2009 at 6:16 am
I am going to add this to my list of books to read. 😀
ChrissiJune 15, 2009 at 8:19 am
Jasmyn is awesome!!!
janicuJune 15, 2009 at 8:53 am
Dear Book Smugglers,
Damn you. My TBR is too big already!
Maya M.June 15, 2009 at 10:49 am
Those covers really do announce ‘fairy tale’.
MaryKJune 15, 2009 at 11:20 am
Okay, this sounds really good, but I’m going to have to show my prejudice and ask: Is this an HEA fairytale or is it the old-fashioned cautionary type?
KMontJune 15, 2009 at 11:39 am
Hmmm, I’m on the fence with this one and I really don’t know why. Maybe I’m feeling the weight of my TBR pile. *ouch*
I do love the cover art for both books, tho. Very nice and different.
TheaJune 15, 2009 at 12:12 pm
Ana – Baby, it’s on its way You will love it. I know it.
Christina G. – I sincerely hope you enjoy it!!!
Chrissi – I completely, wholeheartedly agree. [i]Jasmyn[/i] is totally awesome!
Janicu – IT WILL NEVER STOP. 😈 Hehe.
Maya M. – I cannot get over the gorgeous cover art. Really just gorgeous stuff. Other authors should have serious cover envy 😉
Mary K. – Aha! Well, I refuse to spoil the ending (I’m evil like that), but know that it is emotional and completely fulfilling. It’s the same brand of dark fairy tale that Juliet Marilier writes, full of angst and beauty…
Am I being elusive enough? :p
KMont – I can definitely understand the TBR woes. I have some poor neglected books on there that I really am dying to read but CAN’T. Still…[i]Jasmyn[/i] is really, really good. And you’d have to order from the UK so you’d have some time before it arrives and you’d get to read it…
AngieJune 15, 2009 at 12:26 pm
Marillier reference? Well played, Thea. It’s added to the list.
EstelleJune 15, 2009 at 12:32 pm
Just ordered this on Amazon after reading your review. You got me with “dark fairytale” and the gorgeous cover. And I swore to myself I wouldn’t buy anymore books this month too! Coming here is bad for my wallet I think
MaryKJune 15, 2009 at 12:36 pm
“emotional and completely fulfilling” I like this description, but unfortunately I haven’t read Juliet Marilier and I know how much you like dystopian novels. 😉 So I’m still torn. 😆
TheaJune 15, 2009 at 12:56 pm
Angie – I knew the Marillier drop would catch someone 😉 The emotions that Alex Blex invokes with this book are very similar to Marillier’s work (IMO), although the writing isn’t as good (then again, whose is? Marillier’s prose owns me). I think you would enjoy [i]Jasmyn[/i], definitely.
Estelle – Yay! I’m glad you’re gonna give this book a read. It really took me by surprise, I wasn’t expecting to like it so much as I did. I can’t wait to see what you think of it.
Mary K – Emailed you! Hopefully I will get you to give this a try 😉
MaryKJune 15, 2009 at 12:58 pm
Well, it turns out to be a moot point anyway. Amazon.com doesn’t even list it new and the UK copy at bookdepository is way too expensive for me right now. 😐
TheaJune 15, 2009 at 1:10 pm
Mary – Hmm, I probably should have included that in my post. Well, if anyone that is a non-UK resident wants to read Jasmyn for about $20, you can order it off Book Depository (free shipping worldwide), or you can purchase the E-book off of Gollancz’s website. Here are the links for anyone interested:
Book Depository: http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/book/9780575080294/Jasmyn
Or, there’s always Amazon UK, which is a little more expensive (approx. $26) with shipping costs.
I hope this helps!
TiahJune 15, 2009 at 1:57 pm
I just ordered this bad boy and I can’t wait to get it! I can’t believe I haven’t seen this gorgeous book yet? I must be blind.
KristenJune 15, 2009 at 3:51 pm
Ooh, this sounds really good! Now if only it were cheaper or available in the US. I’ll have to keep an eye on it to see if it does.
Alex BellJune 15, 2009 at 4:10 pm
Thea – thanks for the great review. It was a pleasure to read 🙂
And – I agree. The cover artwork is gorgeous. Kustaa Saksi is just. Too. Genius. Textured paper too, so the books *feel* really good. Worth the money for that alone, I feel. 😀
TheaJune 15, 2009 at 4:36 pm
Kristen – I am sure at some point this should hit the US. As of right now, the author’s first book is available on Amazon for a good deal! Here’s the link:
Alex – Thanks for stopping by and commenting!! Happy (almost) release day to you! I really did love your book 🙂 And wow, the final copy has the pretty textured pages too? That’s definitely incentive. My review copy, unfortunately, had neither the final cover nor the nice paper inside. But the story won me over 😉
KristenJune 15, 2009 at 6:30 pm
Thanks, Thea! I looked up Jasmyn on Amazon (and added it to the wishlist so I’ll check on it at some point in the future to see if it become available) but didn’t even think to look for her first book while I was there.
oranniaJune 15, 2009 at 7:48 pm
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?
This sounds amazing, and my library has ordered it! *happy dance* Sometimes I think the purchasing librarian at my local library reads this blog regularly 🙂
The Book Smugglers » Blog Archive » Smugglivus 2010 Guest Author: Alex BellDecember 30, 2010 at 12:02 am
[…] Bell, British author of Fantasy novels for adults (such as The Ninth Circle and Jasmyn, which we both read and loved) and young adults (with her new Lex Trent […]