Friday, February 19, 2010
Thursday, February 18, 2010
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, seat of the ruling Arameri family. 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 a pair of 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.
So, the giveaway is simple. Just send an email to nethspace ‘at’ gmail ‘dot’ com. Remove and replace the ‘at’ and ‘dot’ with the appropriate symbols or use the email link in the sidebar. Use the subject of ‘100K’. Include you're name and mailing address. The deadline is Friday, February 26. Only one entry please and this is open to all. Good luck!
It looks like The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) is shaping up to be THE debut of 2010. The buzz has been building for some time, reviews are stacking up, and the absolutely beautiful cover art (design by Lauren Panepinto and illustration by Cliff Nielsen) cannot be ignored. So, is the buzz justified? For me it is – Jemisin’s debut isn’t flawless, but it is a fun, unique and compelling read that is a welcome new addition to the world of fantasy.
The Arameri rule the world from their isolated perch in the city of Sky, magically held above all. They rule cold and harsh, wielding the power of enslaved gods to enforce their will. Yeine is the daughter of the former heir to the Arameri thrown. Raised far from Sky among the barbarian people of her father, she is summoned to Sky upon her mother’s mysterious death. Thrown into a world of vicious politics, Yeine must figure out who her allies really are – her rival heirs, hated grandfather, or the enslaved gods.
Immediately jumping out is the narrative style with which Jemisin chooses to tell The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. The story is told through the first person view of Yeine at some point in the future (making the ending somewhat predictable) in a sometimes startling colloquial way. At times the story jumps forward or backward with some relevant tangent with almost snarky interjections that often break the 4th wall of author-reader interaction. The reader is lead to question the reliability of Yeine and what she chooses to reveal and not reveal while being slowly charmed with a fish out of water story – an angry fish forced to fight for survival. One product of this approach is that The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a fairly fast read for its 400+ pages – I’d say fast-paced, but some may disagree with this characterization due to a relative lack of action where the fighting is largely with words and political maneuvering. This style sets the stage well for the refreshing twist Jemisin puts on the standard outsider vying for the thrown in a fantastic world.
Throughout The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms Jemisin subtly addresses some rather deep issues important in our own society – slavery, colonialism, sexism, racial and ethnic intolerance, class warfare, and others. Slavery is perhaps the most obvious of these as a central element is the struggle of the enslaved gods as they seek freedom. Perhaps more interesting is the way Jemisin twists typical feminist roles by having Yeine come from a deeply sexist, matriarchal society and thrusts her into a more typically patriarchal one. Part of me really wanted this brought out more, but I realize that leaving it as a subtle background works better in the end. However The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is mostly about power – the abuse of power by Arameri, the ambition for power of rival heirs, power struggles of gods, siblings and lovers.
Not to be limited, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is also a love story – the fairly standard story of a strong woman falling for someone that is more powerful than her, dangerous to be with and at least theoretically, unattainable. Yeine’s forced growth as she figures out who she is while dealing with the anger and grief of her mother’s death in new and dangerous surroundings of course makes her vulnerable to a sympathetic soul. The sympathetic soul and forbidden fruit happens to be an enslaved god – something perhaps even more deadly than the succession struggle she find herself at the heart of. All of this culminates in a sex scene that is at once fascinating and full of ‘oh please’.
While it’s an overall solid debut, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not entirely without flaws. First person narration is always tricky – it really works best when the reader likes or loves the narrator and can fall apart if the narrator becomes uninteresting or annoying. While I never became uninterested or annoyed, the narrative style did break the flow of the book at times in irritating ways and I can see how it could be an even bigger issue for some. Overall it’s handled well, but the unevenness is noticeable. Also, the scientist in me can’t help but question the city of Sky – I can accept that the power of the gods allows the city to be suspended half a mile above the ground. But apparently the gods also need to moderate the temperature and atmospheric pressure of the air around sky. This is completely unnecessary since Sky is only about 2600 feet above the ground – as someone who lives at an elevation of 7000 feet this inconsistency jumped out pretty readily even if it’s only a rather minor detail.
Jemisin creates a wonderfully unique and rich world even if we only see and experience only a small part of it in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Book 1 of the Inheritance Trilogy. While it is the opening of a trilogy, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms stands well on its own. Subsequent books promise to show us more of the world as they are told from points of view other than Yeine in places other than Sky and Jemisin maintains that each will stand on its own equally as well. Book 2, The Broken Kingdoms, is coming in fall 2010 (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound).
Overall, I found The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by Jemisin to be a quick and fascinating read. Her unique voice and layered storytelling are welcome additions to the world of fantasy. Highly recommended. 8/10
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Of much more importance (OK, of much less importance) is that I in fact missed the birthday (or anniversary or blogday – I’m not sure the correct term) of this blog earlier this month. It was 4 years ago in early February that I first started throwing reviews that I’d written on a message board up on this blog for no other reason than to put them in one place and see what happened. There weren’t many SFF blogger/reviewers out there at this time and those that were around often hadn’t embraced the blog format or become as closely tied with message boards and the wider internet fandom as exists now. So, I was a pioneer of sorts – not the first wave and probably not even the second wave, but the wave just before it became the cool thing to do. And at 4 years old, this blog is relative ancient among the fan/reviewer blogs that we all know and love today.
There’s not really anything else to say – I’m not going to say anything profound and I’m not going to go all nostalgic. Heck, it’s only a 4th anniversary, which doesn’t any mean much. So, back to work for me and I hope you enjoy your February.
Monday, February 08, 2010
The way I describe the new urban fantasy above probably leads you to conclude that I’m not the biggest fan of the sub-genre that is taking over the SFF-world with its huge popularity and corresponding sales figures. That conclusion is at least partially correct – as a result it’s not something that I read all that often. However, I do believe that it can be done well just as I believe an exploration of why it’s so popular in this post-911 world is something I’d like to see more of. But I digress.
I picked up Spiral Hunt by Margaret Ronald (Book Depository, Powell’s Books , Indiebound) for a few reasons – I wanted something that could be a short and entertaining read while I was waiting for another book, Spiral Hunt is intriguing to me because of it’s grounding in Celtic mythology which I’ve always been fascinated by, it’s set in a city (Boston) that I’m not too familiar with, and because I am making an effort to read more books authored by women this year. And let’s be honest, as a reviewer of SFF books, I need to read the occasional new urban fantasy book to keep up with things.
Spiral Hunt follows the new urban fantasy rubric fairly closely – Evie Scelan is a relatively young, single woman, is fiercely independent with few friends, haunted by her past, and somewhat down on her luck. Evie also has the ability to magically track the scent of people and things. She makes ends meet with the day job of courier, and moonlights as a finder of people and things for which she utilizes her gift/curse. A call from her past brings her into the middle of a conflict within the dark, dangerous, and magical undercurrent of Boston where a gang of magicians seeks to gain power by feeding off of the magic of gods that have faded a bit from the world.
Spiral Hunt got off to a slow start. Maybe this was due to my own preconceptions about the new urban fantasy that hint at above, but Evie doesn’t start out as a particularly likeable or even interesting person – which can be a real problem for a book told from the first person. The few supporting characters we meet don’t feel fleshed out enough to add any interest. The Boston that we see feels more like a cliché than the unique city I’d hoped for. The plot was slow to get started and rambled aimlessly at times – though this is probably more a result of Evie’s point of view than anything.
But once the novel gets going, Sprial Hunt gets interesting. Once the cast has been introduced and the setting established, Ronald is free to get things rolling. Evie’s conflicted loyalties become compelling and I began to care about Evie’s coming to understand herself and her place. Through this Ronald lays out a wonderfully subtle and ultimately powerfully cathartic resolution for Evie involving her dead mother.
As I mention above, I find Celtic mythology fascinating and with Boston’s long ties to Ireland, there is an obvious connection to be explored (or exploited). And that’s just what happens – the Celtic gods are indeed exploited. I would have loved for more exploration, yet I’m willing to admit that Americans exploiting ancient Celtic gods is probably much more appropriate.
I don’t read enough of the new urban fantasy to really know if Spiral Hunt sets itself apart from the pack. But it did satisfy what I was looking for – it was ultimately a short and entertaining read. At times disappointing, at times addictive, Spiral Hunt left me interested enough to want to know what’s next for Evie – and the adventures of this latest urban heroine do continue in Wild Hunt (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound), a book that I imagine I’ll look into the next time I need something short and entertaining. 6.5-7/10
Friday, February 05, 2010
Monday, February 01, 2010
Boss dives wrecks – she doesn’t salvage, she’s not in it for profit and she makes ends meet by leading tourists through some of her favorites. She dives for the love of the mystery and unique history each presents. Diving is dangerous – the environment of deep space is hostile, wrecks present all sorts of external dangers and unknowns, but it’s perhaps the human response to these dangers that proves the most deadly of all. Boss has found the wreck of her lifetime, a wreck that will lead her to her past and dominate her future, a wreck that will kill.
These days most of the books I read are epic fantasy and most of the authors of those books are male. When I picked up Diving into the Wreck it was an intentional departure from my typical fair. It ended up being both a welcome departure and an interesting one. Diving into the Wreck is an extremely introspective book – we are firmly routed in Boss’s head as she is forced to contemplate her fears, motivations, relationships with family and friends, her past, and future. These explorations feel real – far more real than one may expect from a relatively unreal far-future space adventure. And these explorations feel like a window into Rusch herself. I’ve never met Rusch, so I have no basis other than gut-feel, but it feels very much like through Boss, she delved deep into her own fears and motivations. This sort of deep personal introspection is not often found in the books I typically read – whether this lacking is from epic fantasy or from male writers I can only speculate, but I found it a pretty stark contrast.
Beyond the introspection, Rusch tells a compelling story about adventure in deep space. I’ve been a scuba diver for over 20 years, so I can relate just a bit to what it’s like to leave your natural environment and enter one that is hostile to your life – where you are dependent on a suite that has a finite ability to sustain life. The few times that I’ve done anything approaching cave and wreck diving are among the most terrifying and thrilling experiences in my life. Obviously the recreational diving I’m familiar with is vastly different from penetrating a dark and unknown derelict space ship in an environment that is orders of magnitudes more hostile than the ocean. But the emotional response has to be similar. For me, Rusch captures this very well, though I wonder if someone who has no point of reference (such as scuba diving) would feel the same.
Diving into the Wreck is told in three parts – each a novella originally published in Asimov’s. I have not read the original novellas so I don’t know how much editing occurred to mash them into a more coherent narrative, but the pace of the story does suffer at times – particularly between the parts one and two. The result almost gives it the feel of a mosaic novel, though I stop short of calling it such. The style and feel of the book doesn’t really change, just the timing and flow.
Ultimately the introspection dies down as the story picks up pace toward its finale. By this point Rusch had created a strong connection between reader and character and the book was near impossible to put down. The end is satisfying, if a bit too Hollywood, and leaves the field wide open for a sequel, tentatively titled City of Ruins, that has already been announced.
Diving into the Wreck was something of a departure from my usual fair and a departure that rewarded me well. The deep introspection combined with palpable tension created a near-perfect balance throughout. And Rusch does it all less than 300 pages. This one isn’t just for fans of traditional science fiction. 8/10
- Steven Erikson is blogging (sort of) – we’ll see where this goes.
- RIP Kage Baker – I really enjoyed her books and short stories, she’ll be missed by many.
- I’m in another Inside the Blogosphere over at Grasping for the Wind – Who introduced you to the love of reading?
- Suvudu takes on George R.R. Martin Detractors (again). This time he asks for support from A Dribble of Ink, The Wertzone, and Jeff’s Fantasy Review. I predict this will end in a flame war (because I am just that good).
Below are a few links that sum up this latest fiasco – Amazon ultimately has caved in, but while I was writing this post, they still hadn’t followed through by actually putting links back up to Macmillan’s books – childish and dishonest now.
- SF Signal – a good summary with links to many reactions (a bit out of date now)
- Tobias Buckell – a good summary on the economics
- Charles Stross – a debatable take on the issue
- Suvudu "Nobody blogs like a pissed off science fiction writer."