The Girl from Everywhere
by Heidi Heilig
Rating: 5 Stars
‘Nix has spent her entire life aboard her father’s ship, sailing across the centuries, across the world, across myth and imagination.
As long as her father has a map for it, he can sail to any time, any place, real or imagined: nineteenth-century China, the land from One Thousand and One Nights, a mythic version of Africa. Along the way they have found crewmates and friends, and even a disarming thief who could come to mean much more to Nix.
But the end to it all looms closer every day.
Her father is obsessed with obtaining the one map, 1868 Honolulu, that could take him back to his lost love, Nix’s mother. Even though getting it—and going there—could erase Nix’s very existence.
For the first time, Nix is entering unknown waters.
She could find herself, find her family, find her own fantastical ability, her own epic love.
Or she could disappear…’
I received this ARC from Netgalley for review – what follows is my own opinion.
I’ve been looking forward to this one – time travelling pirates, what’s not to love? Then I was lucky enough to stumble across it as Read Now on Netgalley and I jumped at the chance.
I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a wonderful book and such fun to read. There are some spoilers here – so beware!
Nix is a really interesting character in a very precarious position, her very existence is at stake as her father is constantly on a quest for a map that could unravel the entire story of her life. She is also quite literally the girl from everywhere, having grown up in the margins of the map, constantly on the move through times and places that are not her own. As a result of this she is both much older than a normal sixteen year old and also much less worldly. She has always been an outsider, unable to see any time and place solely in the context of its current history – because in most cases she knows it’s future too.
It’s this sense of teetering balance that makes her so compelling. For this reason I also love her choice of name – Nix meaning nothing. Xin meaning happy. I’m unsure how I feel about the potentially unwanted connotations of her surname being Song because I just kept getting Dr Who flashbacks, but that’s a different story.
At the beginning of the book we meet Nix at a pivotal point in her life. On the cusp of adulthood, she is simultaneously craving freedom and a sense of belonging – eternally trapped between trying to balance her own wants and needs with her father’s obsession. Is she selfish to want to continue to live the life that she has rather than chancing rewriting her life? This question seems to be central to her character and Heilig allows it to manifest in a variety of interesting ways. One that really worked for me was the fact that her cabin was so bare – almost as if she didn’t feel like she had the right to make much of a mark on others lives, in case she ceases to exist.
Nix’s development from this point of potential change is the true joy of this book – brilliant worldbuilding and time travelling pirates aside it’s a very human story.
Whilst Nix is a very strong character I also loved the rest of the crew. Bee is wonderful, a farmer on a ship – always judging people on their ‘cattle’. I loved the idea of her bell, the fact that she’s being happily haunted be her dead wife. Due to the tenuous nature of reality in this book, the power of belief, you’re never quite sure whether Ayen is actually on board the ship and I love that.
Rotgut the runaway Buddhist monk is also a very interesting character. His obsession with food and cooking is great, but I almost feel like I didn’t get as much of him as I wanted. In the next book I would like to know more about what he was running from and if he really does want to go back to his home or if it was just nostalgia talking.
Slate (a very piratey name) is Nix’s father and he’s equally well realised. It would have been easy to make him into an ogre, but he’s well nuanced and as pitiable as he is despicable.
Kashmir is an absolute delight. He’s a well developed character with a proper background and motivations, he’s fun to read and you feel for him. He’s also that incredibly rare thing – a potential love interest that stands up on his own without Nixie to prop him up. I was worried that we were treading into love triangle territory here and I’m very relieved that we dodged it. Blake’s character does serve a purpose and Nix never feels like a toy being pulled about between two children. Her realisation that Blake doesn’t know her, that she wants to be her own person where he wants her to fit into his life feels like a pivotal turning point for Nix.
Outside of the characters I adored the concept of the novel. I loved the idea that Nix needed clothing for every era. I was also intrigued by the idea of her having to have a very broad grounding in all sort of things as she struggles to fit the language, the inflections in speech and the humour into each place she visits. Another thing that I really love about this book is the language – Hellig has packed the book with some beautiful imagery, exquisite descriptions that are so evocative of places and times.
The idea that they can travel to mythical maps is pure genius and this really elevated the concept of time travel in the book.
This was very nearly a 5+ starred book, but the ending felt a little rushed to me. This may be personal preference, but it felt like there should have been another couple of chapters slipped into the climax of the plot. Everything preceding this was very well paced but it feels little too compressed in the final pages.
Nix’s complicated relationship with her father is a driving force behind the plot. Slate is definitely portrayed as having an addictive personality and really this is also the story of him deciding to, well, enter rehab. In the end he realises that he wants his daughter – the woman she is becoming – more than any sort of dream. I believe that stretching out this resolution a little more would have heightened the emotional impact of the story. That said, this ending definitely leaves room to expand upon further. I’d love to see the crew on more adventures now that they, hopefully, have pulled out of the loop they were trapped in.
Ultimately, the book feels like it is about Nix deciding to take control, she decides to move forward with Kash, she gets a pet, she begins to collect more belongings and form connections outside of the crew. Now that she has gained ownership of her life, she seems to finally realise that she is allowed to want to live in it. It’s a real pleasure to read, uplifting without being cheesy and it made me smile.