Jala’s Mask: Interesting world-building in this YA fantasy

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsJala’s Mask by Mike & Rachel Grinti YA fantasy book reviewsJala’s Mask by Mike & Rachel Grinti

I enjoy reading fantasy that stems from a different folkloric basis than the one I grew up in. Middle European, British, Native American and Asian fantasy tropes have been done a lot, so Jala’s Mask, by Mike & Rachel Grinti was a refreshing change.

Jala has grown up in a society similar in some ways to our Polynesian one. Her people can magically shape ships from the material that forms the reefs around their islands. They gather wealth by raiding the mainland. The Five Islands and One are ruled by a king and queen, but except for the One island, where sorcerers are exiled, each island is controlled by a particular family. Jala is part of the Bardo clan. The new king, Azi of the Kayet, is looking for a wife, and Jala’s father is sure she will be chosen. This seems unlikely, because Azi’s Kayet uncle doesn’t trust the Bardo, but Jala’s independent spirit piques the young king’s interest, and he chooses her as his queen. From there, though, nothing goes as expected.

Jala must leave her family and home and journey to the Kayet island. One of the wedding gifts provided by another clan, recently returned from a raid, is a strange thing, a book. Jala does not understand the purpose of a book. If you want things to be remembered, why not turn them into songs and story poems, as her people do? The book, though, is very important to some people on the mainland, and soon the islands are attacked by a bewitched army. More seriously, the raiders may have seized some of the ship-reef boats, the secret weapon of the islanders. Jala and Azi must decide what to do next. Their decision takes Jala to the mainland to confront a strange people who use masks to channel gods.

Jala is a strong character who has to face her new husband, his distrustful uncle, her people’s enemies and her own father in order to decide the right course of action. Her father has always assumed that as queen, Jala will make decisions that benefit the Bardo clan over others. When she does do this, early in the book, she earns the resentment of her people. She must decide whether to be loyal to her family or to her kingdom. Azi is strong and capable, but as a second son he was content to be a warrior and a sailor. The sudden death of his brother thrusts him into a position he never particularly wanted. He is attracted to Jala and admires her courage, but cannot ignore a promise he made to another woman before he was king. These problems have a direct impact on the response to the attack, since Jala and Azi must trust each other if Jala’s plan is to work.

The descriptions of island life, the food, the clothing, the use of messenger birds and the magical boats, is quite well done. Jala is a strong woman who is accepted as queen, if anything a bit too easily, especially after her early mistake, but her courage and willingness to risk herself for her people makes her an admirable character. The connection of the book to the mainland raiders, and the use of the masks, are great touches. At the end Jala makes a difficult choice that will make her people stronger.

I think young teens will like Jala’s Mask very much. Azi, Jala and Jala’s friend Marjani are well defined characters with a lot of life to them. If you are looking for the gritty, gory court politics of A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, for example, don’t bother looking here. I think readers up to fifteen or sixteen will enjoy this book. The beautiful cover art by Jacqueline Nasso Cooke is a bonus.

Publication Date: November 4, 2014. To save her people, she must steal the face of a god. For two hundred years, Jala’s people have survived by raiding the mainland. By shaping the reefs around the Five-and-One Islands into magical ships, they can cross the ocean, take what they want, and disappear. Or so they have always believed. On the night after Jala becomes queen, a tide of magical fog sweeps over the islands, carrying ships form the mainland. Inside are a desperate people, driven half-mad by sorcery and looking for revenge. Now Jala—caught between her family’s unending ambitions, the politics of the islands thrown into turmoil, and her unexpected love for the king—must find a way to save them all if she can. But there are greater powers at work, and the politics of gods are more terrifying than she could have imagined. To save the Five-and-One Islands she may have to leave them behind.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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2 comments

  1. That sounds pretty interesting — I always love a good non-Western sort of setting, and this one sounds unique in my experience of fantasy writing.

  2. I agree that the cover is beautiful!

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