Yellow Jessamine by Caitlin Starling started incredibly strong with great atmospheric detail and a very creepy vibe but puttered out and ended with a whimper.
Evelyn Perdanu is a shipping magnate, the only living survivor of her family. She walks the city veiled and hidden away from the eyes of those around her. Her country is slowly dying, rotting away like food left out to spoil. Arriving from her last voyage out, she discovers that a plague has visited her city, and it is traced back to her crew. They act erratically and slip into catatonia. She begins to investigate the plague as much for the city’s sake and those in it as for her own company and family name. What she finds is complicated and horrific.
Also highly confusing to me as a reader.
This story started beautifully. It was atmospheric and enchanting. We learn little bits of the background of Evelyn’s life; we know a bit about the relationship she has with her assistant. We realize that Evelyn is a master herbalist, and she has used her herbal concoctions all over town, both for good and evil. This fantastic backstory for Evelyn gave me a solid foundation to picture her character in my mind.
This all takes place in the first act of the story.
When we start the second act, additional ideas and characters are added to the mix; the police captain, for instance. It gets confusing, and I was not sure of the importance of things. Should I, as a reader, be concerned by the Police Captain sniffing around? Or with the plague? Or with Evelyn’s business interests?
By the third act, the story gets a bit stranger and still more confusing, and it just ends. I don’t want to give it away, as the ending is very out of the left field.
Conceptually, this is a remarkable book. Starling absolutely knows how to work words into magic in the mind of the reader. During the story’s first half, my mind’s eye was covered in yellow smoke, twisted and thorny vines, and a woman sitting amongst it all veiled in black lace. It lost me in the second and by the third act, I was so confused by some things that I was just done. The atmospheric description and excellent detailing were constant, though, and that is why I finished the story.