BooksOfTheMoon

How Long ’til Black Future Month?

By N.K. Jemisin

Rating: 4 stars

I approach every NK Jemisin story I read with trepidation that is mostly undeserved. The reputation of the Broken Earth books casts a long shadow, and to me, the author has the kind of reputation that meeting her would lead to me cowering, in the submission position, while backing away as politely as possible. This reputation, if it exists outwith my head, is undeserved, if this collection is anything to go by. Yes, it has the (deserved) anger of a black woman who has finally found a voice, but there’s joy and playfulness in there too. Stories such as L’Achimista, about a chef given a chance to prove her greatness, after a fall from grace; and The City Born Great, telling of the birth of the soul of the city of New York are beautiful and joyful.

There’s conversation within the genre, with responses to Heinlein and Le Guin and there’s dread, pain, death (and other anthropomorphic personifications) and, of course, hope.

I wish that Jemisin had provided a few words on each of the stories. I always enjoy hearing the context in a which a story was written, to help foster a deeper appreciation, but although it’s something Asimov did a lot, and did well, I’m not sure how common it is these days.

I’ve encountered a few stories before in other forms (often in audio form on Escape Pod and its siblings), but there was only one story which I skipped entirely because it was difficult enough first time round (Walking Awake, where alien Masters possess human bodies like puppets, if you’re wondering). And despite my memory, Sinners, Saints, Dragons and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters is a fantastic story and a great way to round off the collection. Oh, and this story also has the most memorable metaphor in the whole book: “blue sky hard a cop’s eyes”. Ouch.

So 4.5 stars, rounded down. A fantastic collection, with just one or two stories that just didn’t gel for me.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356512549
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2018

The Broken Kingdoms (The Inheritance Trilogy, #2)

By N.K. Jemisin

Rating: 3 stars

I’m not sure if it’s just down to my state of mind at the time of reading, but I didn’t enjoy this as much as its predecessor. Our environment and the things going on in our lives definitely affect how we consume media and I feel that possibly that I wasn’t quite in the right frame of mind for this book. It’s set about a decade after the events of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms as Oree Shoth takes in a strange, homeless man and, as a result, gets drawn into a plot that starts with killing godlings, but has much bigger implications.

We get to see many more of the godlings in this book than we did in the previous one. That one was focussed entirely on the imprisoned ones, but the others had been banned from coming to the mortal realm. With that injunction gone, they flock there. We see gods of hunger, shadow, debt and more. Jemesin plays them with a light touch; although they supported Itempas in the Gods’ War, they don’t necessarily love him. And speaking of, we get some insight into the mind of Bright Itempas as his time with Oree starts to help heal him. Despite his terrible actions as revealed in the first book, we end this one feeling pity for him, even as Oree does.

And Oree is an interesting protagonist. Not as hard as Yeine from the first book. She’s a blind artist who was never near the halls and corridors of power and finds it difficult to cope with everything that happens to her, although when push comes to shove, she does have the strength to deal with it.

While I wasn’t completely wowed by this book, I’ll still look out for the final book in the trilogy.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841498188
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2010

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

By N.K. Jemisin

Rating: 4 stars

Yeine Darr is an outcast, chief of a faraway kingdom and is shocked to get a summons by her grandfather to the capital. She’s even more shocked to find that she’s been named as his heir, to fight with the other two such named for the privilege of taking his place. In the city of Sky, effective capital of the world, she must learn politics and intrigue and strive to tell her pitifully few friends from her many foes. And that’s before the imprisoned gods get involved with anything.

I hadn’t realised until I read the interview at the end that this was Jemison’s debut novel. It is well-written and assured throughout. If this is her at the start of her career, I can definitely see why she ended up winning a trifecta of Hugo awards for her Broken Earth series. I’ve avoided that as everything I’ve heard suggests it’s extremely dark, and that’s not for me. You can get a foretaste of that here, in the coldness and ruthlessness of the Arameri (Yeine’s estranged family and erstwhile rulers of the world), and it’s something Yeine herself has to learn quickly as well.

Some of the other reviews here have commented on the sex in the book. I must say that this took me aback, since it mostly passed me by. Yes, there was some, but it wasn’t something I thought was particularly graphic or excessive. The line about the god’s phallus did make me giggle though, which may not have been the intention!

In a lot of ways this book reminded me of Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, it also has a distant scion of a powerful family thrust into the centre of the political world and having to adapt quickly to changed circumstances. But both Yeine, and the story itself, is much harder than Maia and Emperor. That book left me feeling sort of warm and fuzzy; this one has a satisfying ending, but I wouldn’t call it warm or fuzzy.

The worldbuilding here is fantastic, with its central Three gods, and the story of how one overthrew the others woven into Yeine’s story. How the idea of light, dark and balance is central to the whole book. The characters are all fascinating. Most of the human ones, other than Yeine, don’t get a lot of characterisation (although her dead mother is a central driver and we learn more about her than about many of the living people) but the gods and godlings are brilliant. Nahadoth, god of night, and Sieh, the childlike god of mischief are particular standouts.

Excellent worldbuilding, great characters and a definite page turner. I enjoyed this a lot, and I look forward to reading the others in the trilogy.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841498171
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2010

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