“What’s your name, girl?”
“Saffron,” she said, clearly surprised by the question. “Saffron Coulter.”
“Well, Saffron Coulter, let me give you some unsolicited advice,” said Gwen, because having already come this far, she might as well go that little bit further — then faltered at the realisation that there wasn’t much she could say. She didn’t know what else was going on in Saffron’s life, and the boy’s harassment of her wasn’t going to stop just because Gwen had literally twisted his arm. What could she possibly say that might make a difference?
“Yeah?” said Saffron, expectantly. “What?”
Gwen sighed. “Life is hard. Some days we get our asses kicked, but apathy breeds more evils than defeat. So, you know. Keep fighting.”
It was, Gwen thought, a shitty speech — Pix would probably laugh until she cried — but the girl, Saffron, lit up as though she’d never heard anything better.
“Thank you,” she said again — quieter than before, but also stronger.
Teenager Saffron Coulter is at the end of her patience. A persistent victim of constant sexual harassment at her indifferent school, she would love a way out, if only she could find one. So when, by chance, she meets Gwen Vere, a rare adult who sees her predicament and acknowledges that it’s wrong, she’s desperate to talk to her more. Unfortunately, Gwen happens to be a worldwalker, in the process of entering a portal to another world when Saffron finally finds her again. In a split-second decision, Saffron follows her.
Saffron has followed Gwen to Kena, where she is very much in the way. Gwen has accidentally allowed a tyrant to take the throne, and is trying to figure out a plan to make amends. But in Kena Saffron also finds a community of powerful women, each with a different history, and each with different motivations for the future. There’s Zech, a young girl talented in magic, Viya, an unlikely Queen under the thumb of her overbearing husband, Pix, a noblewoman philosophical about her sudden lack of status and finally Yasha, a powerful matriarch with a web of alliances, deeply-laid plans and a secret past.
There are a host of powerful motivations at play here as well. Yasha wants to remove the manipulative Leoden from the throne and choose a better ruler in his place. Gwen also wants to get rid of Leoden, but that doesn’t mean she’ll let Yasha have her own way every time. Zech wants to learn the truth about her past. Viya just wishes people would treat her with the respect she thinks she deserves. And Saffron just wants to get home.
All of this is thrown into sharp relief when the community is suddenly in danger, and must flee for their lives. Heading for the neighbouring country of Veksh, they must form new alliances and test out the bonds that hold them together. In the midst of everything, Saffron must go from being passive observer to active participant in her own story, and watching this transformation in her was the best part of the book.
I loved how the novel was packed full of wonderful female characters, outnumbering men by almost two to one. However, Kena might be full of powerful women, and may be a more progressive society, where same-sex relationships are as common as heterosexual ones, and polyamorous relationships are the norm, but gender stereotypes still exist — there’s a throwaway line about how women are much less likely to ask for directions that made me laugh.
An Accident of Stars is the portal fantasy for the 21st Century, and not just because Saffron watches YouTube. I enjoyed the part where Saffron compared her experiences to those of the Pevensie children in Narnia, because this book is absolutely the antidote to that one. The Pevensies are the white children who fix Narnia, a reflection of an old idea of British colonialism; Saffron just gets in the way, navigating racism and gender issues in this new world, until she works out the thing she can do to help. And finally, we really see how the disorientation of visiting a new world shapes and changes a person. Saffron suffers real trauma, and so she can never truly return to the life she lived before — contrast this with the experiences of the Pevensies, who return from Narnia hardly changed at all (despite the horror of becoming children again). An Accident of Stars doesn’t shy away from the terrible consequences of what happens to Saffron, but is a much deeper book because of this, and I can’t wait to read about more of her adventures in the remainder of the trilogy.
An Accident of Stars is available from Amazon.