I don’t often pick books up at random anymore, but I chanced to see an interesting title at the library the other day. It turned out to be an excellent find: Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore.
Nineteen-year-old Jane is an orphan who recently lost her beloved Aunt Magnolia, who raised her. Jane is unmoored and drifting when she bumps into Kiran, an old acquaintance, who on a whim invites Jane to come to Tu Reviens. This is Kiran’s family estate, a mansion on a private island. Jane doesn’t want to go, but her Aunt Magnolia made her promise to accept an invitation to Tu Reviens if it ever came. It proves to be a mansion full of mysteries, and every person there has secrets. Jane soon finds herself at a crossroads, a seemingly insignificant moment when she can choose which mystery to pursue. Jane only can see one choice–at a time–but the reader gets to see what happens as each choice takes her down a completely different path, dividing the bulk of the book into five sections, each exploring a different direction.
This is a masterfully created book, and as a writer I am genuinely in awe at how Cashore pulled this off. Each section of the book follows its own story, but it’s clear that all the elements from each section are happening in all of them–Jane just has different information, or sees different pieces. Later sections still have references relevant to earlier ones, and early ones have clues that aren’t explained until later ones. It’s incredible.
Equally as fun, I realized as I went through the book that each section is a different genre: mystery, spy thriller, horror, science fiction, and fantasy. Each one is beautifully done, both for its genre and as part of a larger, cohesive whole. The horror section was suitably horrifying, and the sci fi story added a little bit of meta explanation for the book’s structure–sort of.
Each story line was very different and engaging. The spy story held my interest a little less, but I think that’s just my personal taste. It was occasionally hard to re-engage when we started a new section (because I was interested in the previous story!) but I was always able to move past that.
Jane herself was a great heroine, uncertain and adrift at first but finding her way in each path. She’s full of unique details. Her aunt was an underwater photographer and Jane calms herself with the “jellyfish breathing” that her aunt taught her. Jane is drawn to making umbrellas, a passion she can’t explain. In each path she makes a different umbrella, one that connects to each new direction she’s going.
In another element I found interesting, Jane happens to be bisexual–and it’s treated just that casually. It’s never a point of discussion or even reflection for Jane, it’s just clear that she’s romantically interested in both a female and a male character. Basically, her orientation is given about as much explanation and thought as a heterosexual heroine’s, and I liked that normalizing of it.
I feel sure this book is a contender for one of my “Best of” categories at the end of the year. Maybe best plot–five times over! I highly recommend it, and I already put another of Cashore’s books on reserve at the library. 🙂