Reading the Hugos 2020: Best Novelette

Welcome to the second instalment in my Reading the Hugos project. This week, we’ll have a look at the finalists for Best Novelette.

Previous categories and what’s coming up:

Links to the upcoming categories will go live every Monday. Depending on when you read this, they may already be clickable. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait a bit longer (I’m still reading and gathering my thoughts on some of these categories).

I may not read short stories unless they are in a collection by an author I like, but I do stumble across the very occasional novelette on my own. This year, I had read one of the finalists and it was mostly a joy to catch up with the rest. Unlike the short stories (and the novellas, which I’ll talk about next Monday), this was a more balanced ballot for me, in that I didn’t love everything. I also didn’t hate anything, which is nice, but I’m having a much easier time ranking these novelettes than I did with many other categories.

The Finalists for Best Noveletta

  • Caroline M. Yoachim – The Archronology of Love
  • Sarah Gailey – Away With the Wolves
  • N. K. Jemisin – Emergency Skin
  • Ted Chiang – Omphalos
  • Siobhan Carroll – For He Can Creep
  • Sarah Pinsker – The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye

N. K. Jemisin is a master storyteller but not just when it comes to novels. She’s also really good with shorter works, as is shown in her novella Emergency Skin. This story is interesting for its narration – a first person narration by an AI implant in a space traveler’s brain – as well as its themes. While I agree that the point may be very on the nose and the message  obvious, I didn’t mind that at all. In fact, I thought it showed a lovely glimpse of a possible future for humanity if we only behaved differently.
I think it’s best to go into this story blind, so I won’t say anything about the plot. But you can expect Jemisin’s trademark writing (meaning to say, it’s brilliant) and her characters dealing with diversity and social justice. This was definitely a very hopeful story that left me feeling slightly better about the world.

Ted Chiang’s collection was my first foray into his writing and, boy, was I impressed! That said, the nominated novelette Omphalos was not my favorite. It’s about a version of Earth that was created by an all-powerful being (like God) and where there is scientific proof of that – bones that are fully formed without signs of having grown, ancient mummified humans without navels, etc.
When one archeologist finds out that there is more to this than the world thought so far, her belief is called into question. Like the rest of the collection, this story deals with big questions of free will, the importance of one’s actions, and the meaning of life. You know… the usual. The reason I didn’t like this story as much as the others in the collection was the style. While it fits perfectly with the setting and world building, it just wasn’t as enjoyable for me to read. That’s purely a matter of personal taste, however, and says nothing about the quality of the novelette.

I had high expectations for Sarah Gailey’s Away With the Wolves but it was… kind of disappointing. Gailey wrote a fresh take on werewolves, with a young girl living openly as a shape shifter in a small village. When she spends time as a wolf, she feels free and right. When she’s in human form, her body is plagued by constant pain and things just aren’t what they’re supposed to be. Trying to bridge these two identities make life pretty hard for her.
There is a lovely female friendship at the heart of this tale and I loved how the village dealt with the werewolf in their midst (not as you’d expect). But this story felt so repetitive after a while. We learn right away that being in a human body physically hurts the protagonist and this point is hammered home over and over again, to the point where I wondered if there would be any pages left for actual story. It also never became quite clear why staying in wolf shape forever and living in the forest was out of the question – or maybe I missed a line that answers this question? So I wasn’t super thrilled with this story but I did love the ending very much! It’s a good novelette but with this competition, it still goes somewhere near the bottom of my ballot.

The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye by Sarah Pinsker was both unexpected and super fun to read. It’s about a mystery writer who spends some time every year in a remote cabin where she finishes the next novel in her book series. She also has the World’s Best Assistant and, of course, a keen eye for clues. When a dead body shows up, she can’t help but try to figure out what happened…
This may sound like your average murder mystery and it certainly uses the tropes of the subgenre to its advantage. But rest assured, this does have a speculative element and it is super cool! The writing was so much fun and would have entertained me for many more pages. Like in a murder mystery, we get the solution to all our questions at the end. In this shorter format, that felt almost a little overwhelming, but since things fit together so beautifully and I got so much enjoyment out of it, so I’m ranking this one pretty high.

Siobhan Carroll’s For He Can Creep is a story told from the point of view of a cat. Immediate brownie points for that – I am a sucker for cat characters, especially if they feel properly cat-like. It’s also the story of the cat’s owner who is a poet in an asylum struggling with his art. When the devil appears one night to make a deal, things don’t go so well for cats and humans alike and our pawed protagonist Jeoffrey has to ask some friends for help in setting things right again.
I didn’t dislike this novelette as such, but compared to the others, it felt generic and flat. The plot was super predictable, right from the start, the cat characters were great but not intersting enough to set them apart from other fictional cats I’ve read about. It’s nice that this story is based on an actual poem about cat Jeoffrey but overall, this one was only okay.

The final novelette, The Archronology of Love, deals with grief in a science fictional setting. A colony on New Mars has been completely wiped out. On that colony was protagsonist Saki’s lifelove M. J. and wehil she may just be doing her job as a xenoarcheologist, trying to figure out what happened to all the people, she also can’t let go of the hope that she might see her love just one more time. In this story, humans make use of the Chronicle – a way to sort of time travel and look at a place how it was at a different time. But, as with all scientific observation, simply looking at something already changes it.
This was another nice story but one that didn’t do anything very special with its premise. The mystery at its core – what alien disease killed the entire colony? – never interested me that much because the book focuses more on Saki’s way of dealing with her loss, of never having been able to say goodbye properly. While that is something I sympathise with and generally like reading about, there wasn’t really enough time in this shorter work to delve into it deeply enough. We didn’t get to see the couple when they were together, we are simply informed that Saki is grieving, so I was missing the emotional impact. It’s a good story but, for me, not a Hugo Award worthy one.

My ballot (probably)

  1. N. K. Jemisin – Emergency Skin
  2. Sarah Pinsker – The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye
  3. Ted Chiang – Omphalos
  4. Sarah Gailey – Away With the Wolves
  5. Siobhan Carroll – For He Can Creep
  6. Caroline M. Yoachim – The Archronology of Love

Whew! That’s my ballot and I’m pretty sure it will stay that way. Jemisin’s work just resonates with me, so it sits firmly in my top spot. Pinsker’s murder mystery was so much fun and so clever that it has to come next. While Chiang’s story may not have been my favorite in his collection, it still has a brilliant premise and makes me think – I always appreciate stories that impact me so much that I tell others about them and mull them over long after reading.
I’m also quite certain about the ranking of my bottom three spots. Gailey’s story had some pacing issues but otherwise does interesting things with a well-known genre trope, Carroll’s story of Jeoffrey the cat was predictable but still fun. And Yoachim’s novelette, while an okay read, would have worked much better as a novella or even a novel.

Up next week: Best Novella

N.K. Jemisin – The City We Became

I don’t know what I expected. I mean, N.K. Jemisin can do no wrong if you ask me, but you never know, especially when an author branches out from epic fantasy novels into something more urban and contemporary. But if the author possesses enoughs kill and creativity, we still end up with a great novel. And we don’t have to debate Jemisin’s skill after her three-in-a-row record-breaking Hugo wins.

by N. K. Jemisin
narrated by Robin Miles

Published: Orbit, 2020
Hardback: 437 pages
Audiboook: 16 hours 14 minutes
Series: The Great Cities Trilogy #1
My rating: 9/10

Opening line: I sing the city.

Five New Yorkers must come together in order to defend their city in the first book of a stunning new series by Hugo award-winning and NYT bestselling author N. K. Jemisin.
Every city has a soul. Some are as ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York City? She’s got five.
But every city also has a dark side. A roiling, ancient evil stirs beneath the earth, threatening to destroy the city and her five protectors unless they can come together and stop it once and for all.

Wow! This may not have been the first review of one of Jemisin’s book that I start with a simple “wow” but it’s the most succinct way of summing up my feelings about her ideas, her writing, her characters, and her plots. If her three consecutive Hugo wins haven’t convinced you yet, N.K. Jemisin is a shining star in the SFF field and I am so happy for her success! But as any truly great writer, she doesn’t just rest on her award wins but keeps working and keeps getting better and better. I will do my best to sum up my thoughts in a coherent fashion, but my review will probably end up very long and somewhat rambly. I am only a little sorry for that. 🙂

When Great Cities are born, a human avatar comes into their power. It’s happened with many cities on Earth, but now it’s New York’s time! A young homeless man feels himself become the city and the city coming to life. But something is wrong – it’s too much for him alone to hold and there’s something dangerous and evil lurking in the shadows… Cue the awakening of five other humans “awakening”, representing each of New York City’s burroughs. This is their story.

Having never been to New York, I only had pop culture and friends’ accounts to use as reference, and I really have no idea whether the descriptions and personalities for the five burroughs can be called accurate or fitting. But it certainly felt that way. We first meet Manny – Manhattan – who is new in the city and has no memories of his previous life. But even though it’s his first time in New York, he knows there shouldn’t be white tentacles growing out of the street and he knows something weird is going on in his mind.
We may start with Manny but he is the character that remained the most mysterious until the end. Sure, as some of his memories come back – mostly flashes, feelings, and ideas, not actual scenes – he becomes more fleshed-out. But I didn’t really connect with him the way I did with the others. Which doesn’t mean I wasn’t sympathetic. It’s a sign of great writing that I even cared about a character that I don’t know a lot about.

Brooklyn is a former MC turned politician and all she really wants is to make sure her daughter and father are safe! When she meets Manny, she’s kind of his lifeline because Brooklyn understands a little more about what’s going on and why she’s suddenly the avatar of her burrough. But even she doesn’t have all the answers.
When I say I found Brooklyn to be the second-weakest of the characters, that doesn’t say much. Because even though the others are more fleshed out and we get to spend more time with them alone, outside of the group, she still comes across as a believable human being whose welfare was important to me as I read. Actually, scratch that bit about “second-weakest” – I liked Brooklyn and she grew on me more and more over the course of this novel.

Bronca, the newly-born avatar of the Bronx, sees the big picture. Not just about the birth of her city and her fellow burroughs, but about what’s going wrong in the world. She runs an art gallery in the Bronx and just wants to make the world a little better. But it’s not easy when she has to deal with disgusting art by racists pretending to do good…
I adored Bronca! First of all, she’s an older woman of Lenape heritage who doesn’t take shit from anyone. But she’s also caring and deeply protective of the people she loves. Her dynamics with young Venesa (part surrogate daughter, part protégée) were beautiful to read and showed different aspects of Bronca’s personality. I also enjoyed her storyline with the art gallery a lot which made her my favorite character to read about.

Queens is a young woman of Indian descent named Padmini who lives and breathes mathematics. She comes into the mix rather late but I loved her from the get go. Her reaction to suddenly being Queens is the exact correct level freaked-out. But while she may appear somewhat quite or even meek at first, she soon shows her strength when it is most needed.

Now this book wouldn’t be very fun if all characters were essentially good, so there is a villain and a good one at that. And then there’s Staten Island. Aislyn has grown up very differently from the other characters. Raised by a protective and super racist cop father, she has learned that white = good and brown = bad. Men are dangerous, nicely-dressed women are safe. So it’s no surprise that Aislyn is the one who listens to the strange woman in white who may or may not have something to do with the weird white tentacles growing out of the street and sometimes even out of people.

As you may have guessed already, there is a lot of social commentary in this book. And if what Jemisin has to say about the state of the world differs from how you see things, you probably won’t like The City We Became very much. I, however, am on board and I thought she did a great job in showing how a group of diverse people deal with all the shit that’s happening on a daily basis. Whether it’s some dude mansplaining to Bronca why his torture porn piece of art isn’t racist when it clearly is, or Brooklyn worrying about her daughter’s safety, whether it’s the New York avatar’s homelessness or Queen’s fear that her family might be deported – there’s a lot to think about here and it’s all presented in a careful, respectful manner. Most importantly – while Jemisin’s message is clear and not particularly subtle, it is never hammered in. I didn’t feel lectured at any point. She simply invites you to think about certain things and while her characters certainly know what they think about these issues, you are welcome to make up your own mind.

The same people who might be opposed to Jemisin’s social commentary will probably also have things to say about the diversity of the characters. Except for Aislyn, all the protagonist and side characters are People of Color, some of them queer. Honestly, if the avatars of a city as big and diverse as New York had been all white people, I would have been shocked and it would have made the whole idea of this novel less interesting. I also found that Jemisin made her characters effortlessly diverse, without any heavy-handedness. And I find it hilarious that the book itself even mentions how bigots react to this kind of thing, accusing people of using POC as tokens, of trying to gain political correctness points, and so on. This book can certainly be read as simply a great story but I loved the meta apsects of it as well. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Better New York Foundation reminded me quite a bit of a certain group of “melancholy canines” that was opposed to women and POC winning Hugo Awards a few years ago…

So many words written and I haven’t even talked about the plot yet. Well, it’s both simple and complicated. Essentially, the burroughs find out that they are the avatars of a newborn city and they should probably all get together and also see what happened to the avatar of New York as a whole. Oh, and while they’re at it, try not to get killed by the woman in white and her evil tentacles. Why? Well, to save their city, of course!
The driving force behind all their actions is a deep love for their sprawling, beautiful, flawed city and the wish for everyone in it to have a good life. It may not be a quest to throw a ring in a volcano but it was just as exciting. There’s a nice, solid build-up to the climax that leads to a thoroughly satisfying ending. That’s all I can say without spoiling the fun.

I treated myself to the audiobook version and I was so happy about the narrator. Robin Miles does such an amazing job reading this book! She does different accents for the characters, some of them better than others. I found her British accent really good and she absolutely nailed the nuances between the differenct characters’ way of speaking. Sao Paolo’s accent was a bit of a miss but then again, Miles is a narrator, not an impersonator. Considering all her other qualities – reading action-packed scenes with the necessary urgency, doing different voices for different characters, having a brilliant maniacal evil laugh – I can forgive the slightly off accent for Paolo.
Another thing about the audiobook that I want to mention is the occasional sound effects and music. They don’t happen often, but they give the story that little extra that helps immerse yourself in it. I definitely loved it!

If you like a diverse cast, reading about a city like it was a character (and which city isn’t, really?), about current issues wrapped in a fantastic tale, about friendships and family, then pick up this book. Jemisin’s writing is superb as always and this story is all the better for being a book-shaped middle finger in the direction of people who think they deserve better than others, be it because of skin color, gender, or sexual preference. This New York is for everyone!

MY RATING: 9/10 – Close to perfection!

N. K. Jemisin – The Fifth Season

HOLY SHIT you guys! Before I get into the details, let me shout at you that THIS WAS THE BEST DAMN BOOK I’VE READ IN A LONG TIME. It’s twisty and full of depth and it’s got diverse characters doing awesome shit and living through hell and still going on and also that world is a messed up place and I loved every page of it. Okay, time to take a breath and do that all over, with punctuation.

fifth seasonTHE FIFTH SEASON
by N. K. Jemisin

Published by: Orbit, 2015
Ebook: 500 pages
Series: The Broken Earth #1
My rating: 9,5/10

First sentence: Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we?

This is the way the world ends. Again.
Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.
Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.


Where to start with a book like this? There are three protagonists whose stories we follow in alternating chapters. One of these character’s stories is told entirely in second person and that works beautifully – it took me half to book to even notice it. Essun, who has found her little son dead, killed by her own husband, and her older daughter kidnapped by the same, sets out to hunt them down. Save her child, kill her husband. Working through her grief and dealing with a just-begun Season, it’s not exactly fun to read about her, but my god, is it riveting! Essun is also an orogene in hiding, a person who can feel – sess – and manipulate the earth and its heat, a talent that is used for stopping earthquakes in this hostile world.

The second protagonist is Damaya, a little girl with the gift of orogeny, who is taken to the Fulcrum, a sort of school for orogenes. Although this school is also a prison, and while orogenes (or roggas, the derogatory term) are trained to use their power without hurting others, they are also slaves to the Sanze Empire, doing their bidding and always watched by their Guardians. I loved how some of Damaya’s story read like a dystopian boarding school tale, a departure from the otherwise completely bleak world. Don’t get me wrong, Damaya’s life isn’t fun either, but I enjoyed the shift in tone, and it shows off Jemisin’s amazing skill all the more.

The third, and my favorite, character to follow, was Syenite. She is Fulcrum-trained and has earned four rings in their ranking system. She is sent out with Alabaster to do an orogene’s job and also to breed, in order to produce a highly skilled new orogene baby for the Fulcrum to train. You see, while orogenes at the Fulcrum aren’t hunted down and killed, they are still a far cry from free. Syenite and Alabaster’s relationship was a pure joy to watch. Syen is a stubborn, incredibly likable character. Her ambition, her hunger for more, her dislike of ten-ringer Alabaster and the fact that they have to have sex without really wanting to – every little bit about her made me love her.

Since I’m keeping this spoiler-free, instead of going on about the plot (which is amazeballs!), let me talk a little about the world-building. Which, if possible, is even more amazeballs. I seriously don’t think I’ve read anything this original and internally consistent in a long time. There are plot twists (all of which caught me by surprise and made me shout WHAT THE FUUUUUCK), but even without them, exploring this strange world managed to have me sitting there with my mouth open, trying to wrap my brain around all this.

The Stillness is a big continent and the fact that its population ise used to Seasons – people have go-bags for when the shit hits the fan again – tells you that it’s a fairly unpleasant place to live. Orogenes are, in my mind, magic-users or X-Men or whatever, but instead of being revered or celebrated as superheroes, they are treated as lower class citizens or even less, especially when untrained. But then there are also the obelisks, hexagonal gigantic shapes just floating around. Nobody knows their use or why they’re here. Apart from the actual geographic and tectonic set-up of this strange world, I also found its people highly intriguing. There is a clear class-divide, with orogenes being seen as less valuable than stills (people without orogeny), but even among the stills, there are rich people and poor people. And even within orogenes, there is a pecking order. Let’s not forget the Guardians, which, to me, are like a species of their own with their own set of powers…

I could go on and on about this world and my theories about it, but I really, really don’t want to spoil a single thing for you guys. Something I can say is that, although the three main characters’ story lines are very different, there are clues in one story for mysteries in another. You could read each tale on its own and still get a great story out of it, but putting the puzzle pieces together, they create a bigger whole. It gives you these little moments of “Ha, so that’s how that works” when you remember something from a previous chapter that fits into what the current character is going through. This also means that The Fifth Season is a book that demands concentration. It’s not a book to read on your commute or in  noisy rooms.

I have said many things but I haven’t even mentioned the relationships yet. Not only are there moments of pure beauty between groups of people, there is love in so many facets, despite the bleak world with its many apocalypses. Whether it’s the love between sexual partners, between the people of an entire village, between fellow travelers on the road, between a child and their mother… Jemisin manages to show that even a world as broken as this still has a place for the personal, for enjoyment and sex. Without spoiling, Syen is part of one of the best relationships I have ever read about where the partners complement and challenge each other, arouse and hold each other, push one another to become better people. It’s a thing of beauty.

And, just to round things up, I’d like to say a few words about the prose. Jemisin has been brilliant from the start. Her Inheritance Trilogy already showed that we have a truly original author here, one who defies all the fantasy tropes and comes up with new stuff. In my opinion, she has also always been a fantastic writer, craft-wise. But in The Fifth Season, she truly comes into her own. The tonal shifts between chapters, the way descriptions differ depending on whose point of view we’re reading, the clever tricks she plays on her readers – all of this shows that even great authors still have room to grow and Jemisin did. The Fifth Season is proof of that.

To be honest, many questions are left unanswered at the end of The Fifth Season but  if anything, this made me even more eager to read the next book. This volume is so dense and so full of details that putting any more plot or world-building into it would have been a mistake. As it is, it is an absolutely perfect book with mind-blowing twists and brain-wrecking ideas. I urge everyone to grab a copy and take a week off work. This book deserves to be devoured and enjoyed, soaked up and savoured. It also deserves all the awards!

MY RATING: 9,5/10 – Oh my god, so perfect!


Second opinions:


N. K. Jemisin – The Killing Moon

And thusly my Jemisin-spree comes to a halt. Don’t worry, I still love her writing, but I’m afraid I didn’t quite warm to the characters or the plot in this newer duology of hers. I will definitely read the second part but I’m nowhere near as eager as I was after The Broken Kingdoms.

by N.K. Jemisin

published: Orbit, 2012
ISBN: 0316202770
pages: 448
copy: ebook
series: Dreamblood #1

my rating: 6/10
goodreads rating: 3.97/5

first sentence: In the dark of dreams, a soul can die.

In the ancient city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Upon its rooftops and amongst the shadows of its cobbled streets wait the Gatherers – the keepers of this peace. Priests of the dream-goddess, their duty is to harvest the magic of the sleeping mind and use it to heal, soothe . . . and kill those judged corrupt.
But when a conspiracy blooms within Gujaareh’s great temple, Ehiru – the most famous of the city’s Gatherers – must question everything he knows. Someone, or something, is murdering dreamers in the goddess’ name, stalking its prey both in Gujaareh’s alleys and the realm of dreams. Ehiru must now protect the woman he was sent to kill – or watch the city be devoured by war and forbidden magic.

It is with one laughing and one crying eye that I look back on The Killing Moon. Jemisin’s writing style, which I have raved about in three other reviews by now, is still as lush and beautiful as ever. She conjures up the most beautiful images in my head and I don’t mind the invasion into my brain at all. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love yet again with this story’s language and style.

However. The big problem is that we are introduced to several characters with names that are quite hard to remember and keep apart, yet we only spend a chapter at a time with each of them, which made it hard for  me to get to know any one character better and build up a relationship for him or her. For more than half of the book, I didn’t care at all and didn’t feel I knew much of their personalities. The young Nijiri was probably the most approachable character and I liked reading about him. He had personality and flaws and dreams – and I wanted him to be happy. Ehiru, while highly interesting, stays very distant and is too perfect in his faith and actions for my taste. Sunandi, who could have been a great character, felt merely like a stand-in or a token female. I’m still not sure why her character had to be there at all. To dump information on our heroes at the appropriate time – but otherwise her actions didn’t impress me at all, nor did she feel three-dimensional. That surprised me a lot, seeing as how the author definitely can write multi-layered characters.

As for the plot… it took long enough to take off. We spend pretty much half the book learning about how the world works. The city of Gujaareh didn’t quite feel vivid enough to me. The religion that rules the city, however, was brilliant. Again, Jemisin shows us that she can use mythology and Freudian dream analysis (yes, really) and mix them up into something wonderful and terrifying. The Hetawa keep the faith of the Hanaja and make sure the city is always at peace – corrupt people are sent into the realm of dreaming, forever.

Once we find out this peace is not as idyllic as we thought, things get more interesting. I really enjoyed the last third of this book but didn’t feel it was worth the slow beginning. What’s more: I still didn’t really feel close to the characters so whenever they got hurt or lost a loved one, the emotions I was supposed to feel simply didn’t come. So this is another book for the love/hate-pile.

I will read part two of the story, despite The Killing Moon‘s abrupt and – in case of Sunandi – ridiculous, unconvicing ending. If you don’t like series, this can easily be read as a standalone.

THE GOOD: Beautiful language, a great made-up religion and good world building.
THE BAD: Rocky beginning, I didn’t really care about the characters, they remain vague or one-dimensional. The inner conflict didn’t really come across.
THE VERDICT: Recommended to fans of Jemisin’s writing or people who enjoy stories in an Egypt-like setting with made-up religions and gods.

RATING: 6/10  Six killing moons. Quite okay.

The Dreamblood Duology:

  1. The Killing Moon
  2. The Shadowed Sun

N.K. Jemisin – The Kingdom of Gods

It is now official. I am a fan of N.K. Jemisin’s.  Her Inheritance Trilogy is a wonderfully fresh take on fantasy with gods roaming the mortal realms doing harm and doing good, with a world that’s radiant and original, peopled by some of the most wonderful characters I have met in literature. Thank you, Miss Jemisin.

by N.K. Jemisin

published: Orbit, 2011
pages: 642
copy: ebook
series: The Inheritance Trilogy 3

my rating: 7,5/10

first sentence: She looks so much like Enefa, I think, the first time I see her.

For two thousand years the Arameri family has ruled the world by enslaving the very gods that created mortalkind. Now the gods are free, and the Arameri’s ruthless grip is slipping. Yet they are all that stands between peace and world-spanning, unending war. Shahar, last scion of the family, must choose her loyalties. She yearns to trust Sieh, the godling she loves. Yet her duty as Arameri heir is to uphold the family’s interests, even if that means using and destroying everyone she cares for. As long-suppressed rage and terrible new magics consume the world, the Maelstrom – which even gods fear – is summoned forth. Shahar and Sieh: mortal and god, lovers and enemies. Can they stand together against the chaos that threatens?

Let us ignore this slightly misleading blurb, okay? This third instalment in the trilogy is told out of Sieh’s perspective, a godling who we got to know a little in book one and saw only peripherally in book two. I was immediately struck by his fickle character and just how different he seemed to the Sieh I thought I knew from when Yeine told her story. Sieh is a trickster god, the god of childhood and freedom and carelessness. What we see of him at first is cruelty, though, and a blatant disregard for mortal life. Until he meets the Arameri twins Shahar and Dekarta and the three swear an oath of friendship. And Sieh turns mortal…

This happens fairly early in the book and had me thinking: Oh no, not again! With a similar premise in book two (still my favourite), I didn’t much feel like rehashing the same themes again. But the author doesn’t disappoint and the story, while meandering like crazy at certain points, takes us to new and unexplored depths of what it’s like to be a godling. Sieh’s character is so full of facets and change that I didn’t really much care about the plot. Following him through this insane story was a pleasure in and of itself.

Like I said, the plot is all over the place. Many plot strings are introduced but we’re left in the dark as to whether they’re important at all or not. Strange masks turn their wearers into killing machines, only to kill them in the end, which poses a new threat on the Arameri rule. Sieh’s love for both of his befriended twins creates new drama and conflict. And there is still Itempas, 100 years after the events of The Broken Kingdoms, trying to atone. What kept me reading was the big secret that looms over all of this, something Sieh has forgotten, something that changes everything.

But even after this big secret is revealed (and it is a bummer!), new threats and the intricacies of the story kept me interested. This wasn’t a tale as beautifully crafted as book two but I still enjoyed every page. Mostly because N.K. Jemisin is just a brilliant storyteller. She explores themes of love, death, and fate. Of relationships between fathers and sons, silblings, lovers, and families with too much power for their own good.

“Well, isn’t that what fathers do?” He had no idea what fathers did. “Love you, even if you don’t love them? Miss you when you go away?”

The ending was not just a climax to this book but to the entire trilogy. As devastating as it was, at the same time, it gave me hope. Hope for this world – and yes, I realise it’s fictional – and for the gods and mortals alike. Different from its predecessors as it may be, this book left me utterly satisfied and wanting a lot more of Jemisin’s stories. A very nice extra was the glossary, fully equipped with doodles by Sieh himself.

THE GOOD: Beautifully written, characters with so much depth you can never be sure of who they really are. Set in an original and fresh fantasy world.
THE BAD: The plot meanders a bit and feels slightly chaotic at times.
THE VERDICT: Utterly recommendable to fans of the previous books. It is a worthy end to a trilogy that takes a new spin on fantasy worlds. N.K. Jemisin is an author well worth watching! I’m going to buy paper copies of the entire trilogy, it was that good.

RATING: 7,5/10 A very, very good book.

The Inheritance Trilogy:

  1. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
  2. The Broken Kingdoms
  3. The Kingdom of Gods

Other reviews:

N. K. Jemisin – The Broken Kingdoms

I can’t say what it was exactly, but I felt a pull towards more books by this author since I read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms earlier this year. I know I’m behind on her works and everybody has already finished her new books, The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun. But I gotta start somewhere, right? And I was enjoying myself a lot again. Even more than with the first in this loose trilogy. I’m actually a little heartbroken and want to dive straight into the next one.

by N.K. Jemisin

published: Orbit, 2010
ISBN: 0316075981
pages: 313
copy: ebook
series: The Inheritance #2

my rating: 9/10

first sentence: I remember that it was midmorning.

In the city of Shadow, beneath the World Tree, alleyways shimmer with magic and godlings live hidden among mortalkind. Oree Shoth, a street artist, takes in a strange homeless man on an impulse. This act of kindness engulfs Oree in a nightmarish conspiracy. Someone, somehow, is murdering godlings, leaving their desecrated bodies all over the city. And Oree’s guest is at the heart of it…

I’ve known for a while now that I have a thing for middle books. Even though either of the two books in this trilogy that I’ve read so far could be read as standalone novels, N.K. Jemisin does a beautiful job of tying together the two very different tales told here. Oree Shoth was an intriguing protagonist and I strongly urge you not to read blurbs or the synopsis of this book. The reason I say this is – I knew nothing about this book other than it being part two in this trilogy – and I was quite charmed (in a weird way) by the little plot twist right at the beginning of the story. It wouldn’t be a spoiler to say this but I want to give you the chance, dear readers, to discover this little thing I’m not mentioning, by yourself and be as surprised as I was.

That said, I loved Oree. She is not only a likable heroine, strong and brave and kind, but also a fantastic narrator. I grew to care for her very quickly and I’m truly sad that her story is over (unless we meet her again in book three, which would be awesome!). But also the other characters, above all Shiny, showed depth and personality that made me just love them. Especially after reading John Scalzi’s cardboards-with-name-tags, this felt like I was reading about real people. In an imaginary world, true, but with honest feelings and dreams. And being a sucker for good characters, that was already enough to get me emotionally invested.

But the author gives us more. Apart from suspense, that tingle sense of romance that I remember from the first book, and interesting new revelations about the gods and their past, I was also very pleased with how the plot went. There was almost nothing predictable in this story and I loved how every time I thought I figured something out, Jemisin took her story and twisted it around, making me have to guess all over again. I also thought that her writing had improved. Those few things I disliked in book one – the partly disjointed tidbits of information and jumping back and forth – was gone here. It’s like somebody told her how to be better and she just did.

I am, you see, a woman plagued by gods. It was worse once. Sometimes it felt as if they were everywhere: underfoot, overhead, peering around corners and lurking under bushes. They left glowing footprints on the sidewalks.

Ten years have passed since the events of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and a lot has changed since then. Discovering just how different the world – and the city of Sky – is, was another reason for why I enjoyed this book so much. We learn things that happened before we read Yeine’s story and we learn about what’s been happening since then. Having known only a few people’s perspective on the God’s War so far, it was nice to get to see the other side of it. And again, the author managed to make me care for somebody I was sworn to despise. Readers of the first book will know immediately that I speak of Shiny (you know who). Learning about his suffering, his side of things, his interpretation of events was simply amazing.

What probably impressed me the most was the originality of the story. I don’t remember ever reading anything quite like it. And in its uniqueness, it also happens to be beautifully executed. What Jemisin has done with her personal idea of gods living among mortals and the balance of the world depending on the whims of three all-powerful beings is simply stunning. This may be because I simply don’t know of any other books who may have done this before, but for me, at least, this is the first of its kind and will hold a dear place in my heart for it. Thank you for not re-hashing things that happen to have sold well in the past (yes, this is a nod towards the Hunger Games knock-offs – which is, itself, a Battle Royale knock-off). In a market so flooded with crap, it is sheer bliss to discover a gem like this.

The ending left me with a bittersweet kind of satisfaction. One crying and one smiling eye, I am now fighting the urge to start reading this book again. Right now! I like to think of myself as someone who judges a second book more harshly than a debut novel. Because if it’s a first novel, there are things a writer still has to learn, I’m sure. By the second book, though, there should at least be some improvement. And this was just a beautiful, beautiful fantasy novel that catapulted N.K. Jemisin into my top authors.

THE GOOD: Beautifully written, compelling characters, taking her mythology from book one to another level. I adored the ending.
THE BAD: Could have explored certain themes more, may feel misleading to some.
THE VERDICT: I loved it. If you were uncertain about book one, read this one. If you liked book one, read this one even more. One of my best reads this year.

RATING: 9/10 Close to perfection.

Read chapter one on N.K. Jemisin’s homepage.

The Inheritance Trilogy:

  1. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
  2. The Broken Kingdoms
  3. Kingdom of Gods

N. K. Jemisin – The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

rave reviews and Luke’s rant (mostly about the audiobook narrator).

by N. K. Jemisin

publisher: Orbit, 2010
ISBN: 0316075973
pages: 432
copy: ebook
series: Inheritance #1

my rating: 8/10

first sentence: I am not as I once was.

Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother’s death and her family’s bloody history. With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Yeine will learn how perilous it can be when love and hate – and gods and mortals – are bound inseparably together.

This is a world where gods walk among mortals. To be more specific, gods have been enslaved by the ruling Arameri family to serve as weapons. The city of Sky – which is basically Cloud City from Star Wars – holds the seat of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and serves as prison to the gods. Yeine is thrown into this world of court intrigue and tries to stay alive among gods, cousins, and the truth behind her mother’s murder.

There is a lot of mythology in this novel and for the most part, I really like it. The idea of a God’s War that happened in the past and has repercussions throughout the world was quite intriguing. However, it is only bit by bit that we learn what happened and make sense of what the characters already know. The disruptive narrative made it even more confusing. (Personally, I found most of the names intuitively easy to pronounce (I do have a background in language study, though) but for those who are confused and want to know how the author pronounces her characters’ and places’ names, check out the pronunciation guide over at her webpage. ) All the confusion is forgiven though, because I fell in love with N. K. Jemisin’s writing. Her prose is both lyrical and precise. My eyes were glued to the page and sometimes I caught myself with my mouth hanging open – for disbelief or pure enjoyment.

In a child’s eyes, a mother is a goddess. She can be glorious or terrible, benevolent or filled with wrath, but she commands love either way. I am convinced that this is the greatest power in the universe.

It is here that I have to mention that The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms features what is probably one of the best sex scenes I have ever read. This is a vision of sorts the protagonist has and it’s from quite early in the book (so no spoilers, really):

I saw myself on the green grass again, under him, pinned by him. I saw myself on a bed – the very bed on which I sat. I saw him take me on my mother’s bed, his face savage and his movements violent, and I did not own him or control him. How had I ever dared to imagine that I might? He used me and I was helpless, crying out in pain and want. I was his and he devoured me, relishing my sanity as he tore it apart and swallowed it in oozing chunks. He would destroy me and I would love every minute of it.

You can tell at once that Yeine is drawn to him as well as terrified – and so was I. After tons of bad YA romances, it is refreshing and amazing to read a book that actually makes me yearn for the male lead. Nahadoth has a magic that has nothing to do with him being a god. He is alluring, dangerous, and vulnerable at the same time – what’s not to like? I admit, he made my inner fangirl come out and wipe the drool off my chin. There were some heart-stopping moments involving Naha that made the whole novel worthwile. Two enormous, godly thumbs up for that.

Squaling girliness aside, I do have some critique. Yeine, eloquent narrator that she is, was too passive for my taste. Throughout the whole novel, she almost does nothing but ask questions. She reacts but is supposed to be from a kingdom of warriors who value strength above all things. Which leads me to my second biggest pet peeve. The nation of Darre – Yeine’s home – is threatened in the novel and Yeine tries everything (but not really too actively) to protect it. Her despair and hope for her home are stated several times, yet I as a reader, did not care one bit for Darre. We do not learn enough to care about the nation. Apart from Yeine’s memories, few as they are, we have no reason to sympathise with one people more than with another. A big flaw in my eyes that took even more drive out of the plot.

The ending was partly predictable, partly surprising, but altogether not very satisfying. I won’t spoil it but I think in the end the wonderful complexities of the gods’ characters were dropped in favour of an easy solution. Sure, you can argue that it’s not easy for some characters but overall, I would have hoped for more despair and doom. The overall tone of the novel was working towards that and I’m not saying it’s a super happy ending, but it didn’t really live up to my expectations.

THE GOOD: Beautiful prose, amazing side characters and an interesting take on mythology and gods.
THE BAD: Super passive protagonist, confusing narrative at times, slightly unsatisfying ending.
THE VERDICT: A fresh new fantasy, recommended to women especially (though definitely not exclusively) – Nahadoth alone is worth the read.

RATING: 8/10  Excellent book

The Inheritance Trilogy:

  1. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
  2. The Broken Kingdoms
  3. The Kingdom of Gods

What other people thought about this book: