Friday, February 15, 2013

Review: The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman

Title: The Fire Horse Girl 

Author: Kay Honeyman 

Rating: 4.5 Stars

When it comes to debut novels, I’ve begun to shy away from books. Without naming any names, debut novels more often than not prove to be massive disappointments for me. Of course, they all have gorgeous covers and thrilling synopses, but the ultimate execution of their plots falls disastrously flat. The Fire Horse Girl, however, is one of those few debuts that truly puts every other debut novel to shame. Although I constantly complain that there is a dearth of good historical fiction out there for young adults, if that means that gems like this novel and Code Name Verity crop up every so often, then I won’t be complaining any longer.

Jade Moon, the kick-ass protagonist of this tale, is the type of heroine I want to put on a poster and worship. Seriously. When her story begins in China, she is seen as a detriment to her family. As a girl born under the sign of the fire horse, her stubborn nature makes her ill-suited to the quiet role she is forced to play as a woman in China. When Sterling Promise, a stranger claiming to have a way to transport Jade Moon and her father to America, the land of opportunity, arrives in their quaint farm in China, Jade Moon’s life is turned upside down. Now, she must brave the questioning officials in Angel Island and somehow make it to America to fulfill her dreams and escape the constricting laws that bind her in China to a life of household work and silence, even if it means forsaking the only life – and love – she has ever known.

What makes The Fire Horse Girl such a remarkable novel is, first and foremost, the amount of research that has gone into crafting it. As a history-buff, I was thrilled to find that the portrayal of Chinese immigration into America was both accurate and authentic. It never ceased to amaze me with what description Honeyman could depict the situations of these hopeful immigrants and the stark contrast between their dreams and reality was sharply felt through the adventures of Jade Moon.

Furthermore, although it is a sad fact of history that women were treated inferior to men, the men in The Fire Horse Girl embody this ideal perfectly without losing their depth. Instead, Honeyman enables us to clearly understand the rigid laws of Chinese culture that have been prevalent for centuries and contrast them with the only ideals that men, even in America, know how to live by. As a woman, and even a little bit of a feminist myself, I was very impressed with the care taken to contrast the role of gender realistically, both in China and America. If you enjoyed novels such as Eon by Alison Goodman, then here is yet another story that is bound to make you contemplate and reflect upon the role of gender, even in the society we live in today.  
The actual story of The Fire Horse Girl itself is told masterfully. It is nearly impossible to set down once you’ve picked it up and the writing will transport you from China, to a difficult journey overseas and finally to the bustling Chinatown of California. As a character, Jade Moon is both defiant and vulnerable, proving to be a protagonist that is easy to root for, but also easy to understand and sympathize with. I loved following her on her journey to self-realization and while the adventures she got herself into may have been a little too conveniently resolved, they served their ultimate purpose. Moreover, with each part of Jade Moon’s ordeal to reach her dreams in America, she uncovers something new about herself. I found the pacing of this to be perfectly timed and the seamless manner in which her depth was incorporated into the novel, without ever slowing down the plot or taking away from the rich cast of secondary characters, was simply fantastic.

Jade Moon aside, the other major player we have in this story is Sterling Promise. I appreciate the difficulty that went into crafting a character like Promise, merely because it was difficult for both Jade Moon and the reader to have a full grasp on his true intentions. It is clear from the very beginning that Sterling Promise and Jade Moon don’t get along – even from their signs of a fire horse and a snake, they are doomed to clash. Yet, as Jade Moon gets to know Sterling Promise more, she uncovers that despite their difference in society, primarily because of their gender, they both have more in similar than they think.

Although their romance is a bit unconventional, I found that I fell for it rather quickly. China, much like India, is a country of arranged marriages and, as such, while love doesn’t happen quickly, a strong attachment can. It is this that Honeyman conveys so perfectly with her two main characters in this story and I loved that despite the romance prevalent throughout the story, it was muted in favor of Jade Moon’s journey to self-realization in a foreign country and, furthermore, it never clouded Jade Moon’s motivations or goals. Instead, the romance is merely a contributing factor to the fluidity of this tale and adds to both the personalities of Jade Moon as well as Sterling Promise.

All in all, The Fire Horse Girl is a novel I cannot recommend enough. Not only will it transport you into another time period, era, and culture, but it will gift you with incredible friends in its characters – ones that are utterly unforgettable. Furthermore, the subtle plot twists will keep you guessing till the end, the secondary characters will make you wish they had stories of their own, and the ending will leave you smiling, wanting nothing more than to travel to Chinatown and re-immerse yourself in this world. It really is just that good. 


  1. I hadn't even heard of this one, but it sounds so interesting.. I'm a bit of a history buff too so I'm always on the lookout for really well-researched, interesting historical fiction (because nothing's worse than shoddy historical fiction!) I might have to check this out, it sounds like it could be a Rey-book.

  2. You are far too nice. You must name names next time. ;)
    Comparing it to Code Name Verity, at least in quality, was good enough for me. I love that it's so well researched, it makes me so sad when historical novels fail in that department.
    You've made this one sound absolutely amazing, Keertana, and I can't say I'm surprised. I'm adding it to my tbr and my google schedule (:D) right now.

  3. Ooooh, historical fiction. I loved Code Name Verity and the comparison has me.

    Definitely the fact that this novel is well researched has my attention because if I'm going to read historical fiction, I want to have something at least semi-accurate in it.

    I very much like the sound of the culture and the Chinese setting. It sounds like a really awesome debut.

    I'm off to find this on GR.

    Awesome review, dearest! :)

  4. It is a sad truth that I am not a huge historical fiction fan, but that is because I am just not well-versed in that genre. I haven't found the best books. I read your first paragraph and went and added this to my goodreads. I've read one other really great review of this one from a blogger that I really trust, so I feel like I'll definitely give this one a try when I can get my hands on it. It never appealed to me because of the cover, though, but I love what you've said about it! Great review. :)

  5. Oh this sounds wonderful. I do not know too much about Chinese immigration other than that they worked on the railroads and were treated poorly. I would very much like ot read this. I have not seen it around or even heard of it so I am off to do some research. Thanks for this recommendation and happy weekend, Keertana!

  6. I've heard this book has been severely under-hyped for how amazing it is, and clearly you agree Keertana! I love a book with unforgettable characters and lots of plot twists, so I'm thinking this book needs to find it's way onto my bookshelves asap. Wonderfully thorough review as usual!

  7. You had me at historical fiction because after Code Name Verity I've realised I need more hist fic in my life!

  8. Well this was a nice surprise! This book received a couple of positive reviews from my friends, but only a few read it, and there has not been a ton of hype or blogging activity over this book. And that is a damn shame. Because The Fire Horse Girl is possible my favorite read of 2013 so far. I know, I know, I only gave it 4 stars, but what it does have in minor flaws, it makes up for in originality, creativity, and bad-ass writing.

    Jade Moon is the type of protagonist I am always searching for but rarely find. When the story begins she is in the Chinese village she has grown up in. Jade moon is a Fire Horse girl (fire sign born in the year of the horse) and according to Chinese astrology, this means her family is cursed. If she stays in Guangdong Province, she is doomed to be married to a 4th son bricklayer because that is the best match her family can obtain for her. So when the opportunity arises for her to immigrate to America, she takes it.

    And this is just the beginning. The prose is utterly gorgeous and captivating. I loved Jade's voice and characterization. She was strong, a fighter, and determined to stand up for herself in a completely patriarchal society. Which brings me to my next point. The Fire Horse Girl is well-researched and historically accurate. You will not likely enjoy the male characters in this book. As annoying as this is, it is as it should be. Because unfortunately females in China during this time were seen as the lesser sex and had to answer to the men in their lives. I just want to warn any female readers going into this one. That if this is not something you can handle, I would not recommend this book for you.

    One other complaint? I didn't much care for the way one plot thread was concluded. I wish I could talk about it, but without giving spoilers, I cannot. If you have read the book though and wish to discuss this with me, I'd be happy to.

    This book was rich in atmosphere; each new setting was brilliantly rendered, and the book was exciting enough to keep me flipping from page to page and I never once wanted to put it down. There was a portion of the book towards the halfway point--the immigration section--that was a little slow for me, but I found it interesting enough to keep turning the pages even so. I feel like I learned a lot from this book, and I had really no interest in visiting San Francisco, but now I do. WHOA. I must see Chinatown!

    I highly recommend this book to almost any reader. And you guys know how much I love Asian fiction. The ones I have been reading lately have let me down, but not this one. It was fabulous. I would even reread it if I had time. Unfortunately I don't, but I don't think you will be disappointed with this one if you decide to read it. It pretty much blew me away!

  9. Gah!!!, you go read Out of the Easy, and I'll go read this, and we'll meet back and do a happy dance about the awesomeness of good YA historical fiction, kay?

    Because seriously, you have made this book sound so amazing, and even not having read it I want it to get MORE attention. I love the accurate portrayal of the Chinese culture and experience, and the unconventional romance. I feel like I'm in love with this book and I haven't even read it yet!

  10. Wonderful review. We have to book push this on people, Keertana. Not enough have read it. And I adore this book. So glad you did too. And I don't read a lot of historical fiction, but this? THIS was awesome.

  11. I'll admit I don't know much about Asian immigration to America in the 1900s. My classes (and perhaps many American history classes) tend to focus more on immigration to the East Coast. While that's fine and all, it definitely makes my knowledge of US history more Eurocentric. One of the reasons I love historical fiction (at least, good historical fiction) so much is that I am getting knowledge I may not have learned otherwise. This sounds like a fantastic book. You've convinced me to read it! :) Not too crazy about their names, but I can definitely get over that qualm to read this book!

  12. Historical fiction and Asian immigration in the 1900s is one mix I was not expecting but I would like more of! We tend to focus so much on the European immigration in history classes. As we discussed, I hope to read this book ASAP!

  13. I don't think I even heard of this book before now. I love the cover and I love the concept. She sounds like a great character as well. I guess this one is just a must read!

  14. I have a hit or miss relationship with historical fiction (also, fantasy. Also, contemporary YA. Also...sheesh, I sound cranky.), but the way you describe this is irresistible! Something about the title and cover and blurb didn't really grab me, but a comparison to Eon? And well-reserched? And 4.5 stars? On the TBR list it goes.

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

  15. It makes me super glad you loved The Fire Horse Girl -- it was probably my favorite January read. I always get nervous when bloggers I like read it because I get scared they won't like it as much as I did. So weird.


    I love what you have to say about gender and how some of what happens in this book can be seen now. I believe this as well. Like, from a lot of what I read in articles and stuff it seems like people do try to keep women in these sort of feminine ideal boxes and lord forbid you step out. I mean, those gender stereotypes still exist. Sexism still exists. I forget the point I am trying to make. So I'll just end this comment by saying great job with this review, I hope it convinces more people to give this awesome book a chance.

  16. I finally got around to reading this and LOVED it so much! I thought for sure that since I wasn't seeing it everywhere that it probably wasn't that great and I was so incredibly wrong. I really hope to find more gems like this and sooner next time!


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