Title: The Blazing Star
Author: Imani Josey
Publication Date: December 6, 2016
Publisher: Wise Ink Creative Publishing
Inclusion of Diversity: Features African-American protagonists
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, and Young Adult
Page Count: 239
e-ARC provided to me via Rich in Variety Blog Tours
“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.”
I have to say that I absolutely loved this book. While I consider myself the farthest thing from an Egyptologist, I will say that ancient Egypt has always been fascinating to me. There have been a lot of YA historical fiction books that take place in time periods that have been fascinating to me and that I only know through books. A lot of these books are not usually written by people of color, unfortunately, and this makes me a bit frustrated since whitewashing of Egypt has been a thing for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I remember my dad telling me that Egyptians are always played by white people which isn’t totally accurate given that it’s in Africa and that idea has followed me my whole life. The release of Nemesis, which takes place in an Egyptian inspired culture but seems to not really feature a ton of POC characters, as well as Colleen Houck’s Reawakened series (whose reviews scream loud and clear that the book is problematic) has left a lot to be desired for me.
The Blazing Star did not disappoint.
I thought that the characters were realistic in their thoughts and motivations within the story, as if I was in the situation that they found themselves in (time traveling to ancient Egypt), I would react in basically the same way. The characters seemed like people I would interact with and people that I probably would meet on the street somewhere or even be related to and known on a personal level. I especially felt connected to Portia, who is presented as an underdog who suddenly finds herself with these abilities she didn’t even know she had. She is terrified of them and doesn’t know how to handle the responsibility she finds herself with but she adjusts well. What I like about the narrative arc in this book is that there doesn’t seem to be an instant acceptance of her chosen one role as if she’d always knew she’d be special. The beginning does paint her in sort of stereotypical, kind of cliché underdog position, but that didn’t really stop me from cheering for her. I felt her disappointment, her confusion, her jealousy all as if they were my own. I felt as though I had been that person before at some point in my life.
The story starts out pretty slow, especially since I kept waiting for the time travel to happen, but that’s also my fault for completely lacking patience. I was very excited by the premise and it did live up to my expectations. The first few chapters serve to set up Portia and Alex’s relationship, as well as establishing their relationship with Selene, a freshman who appears and is sort of the catalyst for setting things in to motion. The fact that she is constantly referred to as “the freshman” will remind you that she is, in fact, a freshman, which kind of irritated me but not enough to ruin the book. Selene essentially becomes another sister to Portia and I really liked the way that that relationship starts to develop. The book is very much about sisterhood, as the synopsis indicates, be it the good parts or the bad. Alex seems to want to control a lot of aspects of the lives of her and her twin sister and it gets to the point where I actively was just hoping Alex went away. Even the way Portia spoke of them “twinning” made it seem like it was miserable for her. It almost seemed as if Alex couldn’t have cared less about what her sister wanted and that really bothered me. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to dislike Alex as much as I did but I found myself enjoying the book a bit more when she wasn’t around. I wanted to see Portia make decisions for herself and Alex never seemed to want to let that happen.
A lot of this book is very much about girl power, which is always a plus in my book, and while I can’t vouch for the historical accuracy of Egyptian priestesses who can also slay monsters, if this was true and was left out of my history books, I will be very disappointed. The three high priestesses at the Temple of Isis are complicated, badass women who I loved hearing about with every fiber of my being. They were very important to moving the plot along, explaining where Portia got her powers from and why she was here and they were also complete badasses. I would read a book on just the three of them alone, to be honest, especially Sikara, who is probably my favorite. The three priestesses complemented the three girls very well and helped very much in my immersion into the world of Ancient Egypt.
Speaking of which, Imani Josey does a spectacular job in describing every little thing. I felt as I was reading as if I could see everything that Portia could see. After time traveling, the girls could speak and understand the language, which reminded me of the instant translators in a lot of science fiction novels and some of the words that the Ancient Egyptian characters used seemed more modern than anything else, but I wasn’t sure if that was just the way Portia translated them to herself or if it was something else. Once again, that was just a small issue that I glossed over as I found myself engrossed in the novel and wanting to know what happened.
There is romance in the novel, but it isn’t super prominent, by which I mean it is there but it’s not there to a distracting degree. After losing the guy she has a crush on to her sister (which I’m still upset about) and finding herself in Egypt, she meets a guy and saves his life. There is no insta-love, which is great, because there is so much else going on that that would be kind of irritating. They see each other again, mostly by accident, and you can see that there is something between them but it does seem more gradual than a lot of what I have seen in YA which made me enjoy myself even more.
The main conflict within the novel takes a bit of time to develop even once Portia finds herself in Ancient Egypt and isn’t totally resolved by the end which makes me hope that there is going to be another book. There are twists and turns that I’m sure might seem fairly obvious to some people but work very well in this book and that I still liked even if some of them weren’t as surprising as they were meant to be.
Overall, I enjoyed this novel very much and would definitely recommend it to anyone, but especially if you enjoy historical fiction with a twist, Ancient Egypt, books written by and about people of color and well-written heroines.
About the Author
Imani Josey is a writer from Chicago, Illinois. In her previous life, she was a cheerleader for the Chicago Bulls and won the titles of Miss Chicago and Miss Cook County for the Miss America Organization, as well as Miss Black Illinois USA. Her one-act play, Grace, was produced by Pegasus Players Theatre Chicago after winning the 19th Annual Young Playwrights Festival. In recent years, she has turned her sights to long-form fiction. She now spends the majority of her time working on backstory, teaching dance fitness classes, and cuddling with her American bulldog, Thor.
The Blazing Star is her debut novel.