Hello, hello! I’m back from vacation where I finished this fun new book, THE BLAZING STAR, by Imani Josey. I knew I had to write a review for it to spread the word. I also think that my more stream-of-consciousness posts are better received, so I’m switching up the review structure and trying out something new.
Sixteen-year-old Portia White is used to being overlooked after all, her twin sister Alex is a literal genius.
But when Portia holds an Egyptian scarab beetle during history class, she takes center stage in a way she never expected: she faints. Upon waking, she is stronger, faster, and braver than before. And when she accidentally touches the scarab again?
She wakes up in ancient Egypt her sister and an unwitting freshman in tow.
Mysterious and beautiful, Egypt is more than they could have ever imagined from their days in the classroom. History comes alive as the three teens realize that getting back to the present will be the most difficult thing they’ve ever done. Stalked by vicious monsters called Scorpions, every step in the right direction means a step closer to danger.
As Portia and the girls discover that they’re linked to the past by more than just chance, they have to decide what it truly means to be yourself, to love your sister, and to find your way home.
There are two things you have to know about this book.
- The cover is GORGEOUS. This is the first book I’ve bought simply because of the cover. It’s got a young woman on the front in modern clothes, an Egyptian headdress superimposed, and sparkles (which I took to mean it was a fantasy, sue me). ALL THINGS I LOVE TO READ ABOUT.
- This book is the first in a series–it’s not labeled as such but it must be. I wish I had known this and it really pissed me off that I didn’t, but we’ll get to that later.
Portia White is not your average high school student. She’s overshadowed by her twin sister’s academic prowess until she touches an ancient piece of jewelry, develops magical powers, and is eventually transported back in time to Egypt. It’s a blast.
THE BLAZING STAR really gets going once Portia and the unwitting freshman, Selene, are transported to Egypt. Alex is there, too, but she’s not really necessary to the story except to provide some conflict and I think set up some stuff for the next book (but you could take her out of this one and little would change, so just don’t get too attached, is what I’m saying).
Have I mentioned that the voice in this is amazing? Portia White comes to life on the pages, her sarcastic wit and the way she struggles with knowing who she is and what she can really do with her life should speak to almost any teen reader. I loved meeting the Egyptian characters and slowly uncovering the nefarious plot by our main villain, who is well-developed himself with understandable, human motivations.
To be honest, I was a tiny bit worried the villain would be kind of flat. It’s a little hard to grasp the motivations of a lot of the side characters. They’re not bland by any means, they just need some more depth. But the villain is great and I’m so excited to see how this conflict moves forward.
How does it do on the diversity front? Well, obviously it stars a Black MC. In fact, I think pretty much the entire cast is Black–at least, certainly the main people, since they spend much of the book in Egypt. It doesn’t really feature LGBT+ characters or disabled characters but it is all about Black girl magic (literally).
Okay, let’s talk about the self-publication thing a bit. Imani Josey has mentioned that she queried THE BLAZING STAR for a year and eventually went to indie publishing instead. She makes good points about Black women writers encountering gatekeepers in publishing, in the forms of agents and editors.
Let me pause for a moment to allow that to sink in, for those of you who may not be aware of this.
Black women, and many other women of color, encounter gatekeepers, barriers to traditional publishing because of their race.
Enraged yet? You haven’t even read this book.
This is a good book. It is a full of twists and turns with a protagonist teens can relate to, a very human villain, and several subplots balanced on top. I think it would have benefited from traditional publishing because the book isn’t as strong as it could be (I’ll come back to that in a second) but for someone to have read the whole manuscript and still say no?
WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?
Ugh, I’m so mad at all of those agents who passed on this.
And you want to know why? Besides the fact that it’s actually a fun story and those agents are ridiculous for not realizing it? It’s one of the best representations of ancient Egypt in media that I’ve ever seen.
Rick Riordan should take note. Hollywood should take note. Josey did her work. There were some reviews on Goodreads saying that it gets the Egypt stuff all wrong and, as someone who has studied ancient Egypt academically (and not just one elective class, I mean actually studied it through bioarchaeology), y’all don’t know what you’re talking about. Movies have given you this pop version of Egyptian mythology that thinks Anubis is the Lord of the Dead so take all the seats and let Josey educate you.
(psst Osiris is the Lord of the Dead, Anubis is a psychopomp, read THE BLAZING STAR)
Okay, okay. Back to the book review. *takes a deep breath at the great injustice of agents not clamoring for this book*
I will say that, perhaps because it’s self-pubbed, there are some grammatical errors throughout the book. Ms. Josey, if you read this review, I volunteer as tribute to proofread the final version of the next books in this series, for the low low price of a final copy of that book. I’m just throwing it out there.
Oh hey, that series thing. Let’s get back to that. In some interviews I read, Josey doesn’t specify that “what’s next” is the next book in this series. And there’s no “book 1” or anything like that on the cover.
But, um, the story doesn’t end. None of the threads laid down at the beginning are tied by the ending. The final battle just kind of stops and the last chapter is more like an epilogue. It very clearly is the first in a series.
I finished this book on a plane so I had to sit there and stew about it. I thought I was getting a complete story, even one that leaves some things open ended for future books (that would be great! I want more of this!). But, as a reader, I trust the author to give me some kind of resolution and I don’t feel that I got that. This was incredibly disappointing, to me. If this is not actually the first in a series, I’m not sure I can pick up anything by this author again because that trust has been damaged.
And it sucked because I was having such a good time. I do really love this book, and I hope that other people read it, but it would have been nice for me to know what I wasn’t getting this time around.
If it’s not the first in a series? Well, I mean, I don’t know if I’d recommend it to everyone. Certainly, you should go in knowing that, if this is a stand alone book, you won’t ever see the conflicts resolved. You can make your own decisions about how valuable that is to you.
I give the book 4 out of 5 stars because I love ancient Egypt and I need more from this world and this story, but it has a little work left to be done.