I received this as review request and it’s also been entered into SPFBO4 in The Alliterates grouping. As I said in my intro to SPFBO, there are some books entered into this year’s contest that were requests of mine before it was official there was even going to be an SPFBO. These reviews aren’t meant to step on toes or make any kind of statement – just fulfilling a personal request.
Pendant Path starts out with Kenji’s POV, he’s a 17-year-old Japanese immigrant living in San Antonio. He wakes up early in the morning in a very small and sparsely decorated room. He’s sleeping on a mattress on the floor with dollar store curtains that can’t keep the sunlight out of the room. His first experience of the day is a struggle with a flood of emotions as he tries to keep himself together – it’s hinted that it could be dangerous for himself or others if he loses control. Once he has himself together he’s a very different person. It’s apparent he’s a character that focuses on control and discipline. He goes through a very rigid and self-inflicted routine each morning and keeps himself nice and cleanly dressed. There’s a little bit of mystery revolving around his background and his father – he and his father have been on the run, never living anywhere for more than six months at a time. I won’t go into why since it’s left as kind of a teaser/mystery for the first quarter of the story until Kenji spills his guts to his friend. It’s left him an outcast and he preferred to keep it that way until he met his first and only friend, Hyrum, who was assigned to him as a lab partner. Both of Kenji’s parents are dead, his father died recently and it weighs heavily on his mind. They didn’t have the most healthy of relationships, it wasn’t abusive but it wasn’t a great dynamic – Kenji didn’t receive any love, affection, or sympathy growing up and it still messes with him from time to time. But, since they moved so frequently he was all Kenji had left and his absence feels like a hole in his life. It’s a mystery even to Kenji how his mother died because his father refused to speak about it. One of the only things he has left of his mother is a pendant that was left behind, nothing more than that, not even a picture. After he trusts his friend enough to tell him the truth about what’s going on in his life, his friend picks up his mother’s pendant out of curiosity and it gets exposed to light – something his mother had told him never to do. A mirror in the room starts to glow after the pendant is exposed to sunlight, and it reveals the second character that’s been alternating with Kenji’s chapters up to that point, a young girl named Elsie.
Elsie is an apprentice watchmaker and a British immigrant in a place called Sloughbank. She feels somewhat out of place since everyone around her looks at her differently for being half British. She doesn’t have a lot of money, her family is poor and just getting by. She’s been apprenticing for a while and is starting on her journeyman’s project, a very old and rare glyph clock that’s her bosses family heirloom. She gets the feeling she’s being watched but isn’t sure what it is until one day a hand pops through the mirror in her workshop and startles her. She doesn’t know if she’s going insane, or if her mirror is possessed by demons. A few days later, her brother comes bursting into the workshop looking for a place to hide, followed closely by a woman named Ixtab who wants him dead. Her brother stole something from a nobles house and they’re determined to get it back.
Meanwhile, back in San Antonio Kenji and Hyrum are watching Elsie and her brother get assaulted by people who look like they’re going to murder them. Before Kenji could form a plan, his friend Hyrum rushes through the mirror to try and help. Elsie makes a plea for them to continue to help her because she’s in over her head and doesn’t know what else to do with her brother’s situation.
Kenji’s chapters give no hint at magic until 20% in when they discover a hidden use for his mother’s pendant, in Elsie’s chapters it’s clear right away. Having a mild magical talent is called your “Affinity”, they work kind of like Knacks from Benedict Patrick’s world. Small skills that are greatly enhanced by a magical innate ability. Elsie’s Affinity is knowing how things fit together, so once I learned that it was easy to figure out why she chose to be a watchmaker.
As far as the pacing is concerned, the first 20% of Kenji’s storyline is character background and set up the brand new friendship between himself and his lab partner, and all you know about Elsie is that she’s a watchmaker. So the beginning was a bit slower, but once you hit that 20% mark everything comes together.
The world building was kind of confusing for Elsie’s beginning chapters because I kept thinking she must be in the past, their city just got their first radio after all – but little things kept hinting that she wasn’t. The technology and culture weren’t totally consistent with 1895, so once I found out she wasn’t really in the past but in an alternate reality, things made a little more sense.
The writing was very to the point as is typical for YA genre, this is definitely not a flowery or overly descriptive book which helped speed the story along. However, there was a bit of telling instead of showing which is also something I tend to see in the YA genre.
So, there were some things I liked about the book and others that didn’t work so well for me. I liked the more light-hearted tone of this, and once the pacing got going it did flow pretty well. I do like seeing diversity in fantasy, and I can tell the authors really love Japanese culture, however, it was pretty heavy handed with Asian stereotypes. I was reading through the first chapter describing Kenji’s morning routine and his home and I felt it was a bit overdone. However, I’m not familiar with the Japanese culture, or how they try and adapt to American culture. So, I decided to ask some of my friends who are Asian and have a much better perspective than myself. All of them read the first chapter and were genuinely upset. Instead of having Kenji’s culture shown as background helping paint a subtle picture, his culture was sort of shoved in your face and shown as window dressings – eating with chopsticks, morning routine training with katana’s, and using foreign words like “Tatami” to describe normal things like a floor mat instead of just describing it. When a culture is shown to be exotic rather than natural it can come off the wrong way. There were many small things that by themselves wouldn’t have been anything to complain about, but when looked at as a whole can paint a stereotypical picture that isn’t meant to be hurtful/frustrating but can be.
- Multi pov
- female pov
- urban fantasy
- portal fantasy
- light reads
- Plot: 9.5/15
- Characters: 8/15
- World Building: 9/15
- Writing: 9/15
- Pacing: 11/15
- Originality: 9/15
- Personal Enjoyment: 5/10