Book Reviews, books

Checking out the Book: Feminist Edition

This edition of recent library reads is brought to you by strong lady protagonists and characters of color who are not messing around. Pediatricians, mothers, folk healers, mathematicians, and police officers–none of these ladies, real or fictional, are going to take your shit. Here are a few books by and about women I’ve enjoyed lately.

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Title

The Tenth Muse

Author

Catherine Chung

Format

Book

Review

As an Asian-American growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, Katherine is an ambitious young woman torn between performing the role expected of her and one that allows her to pursue her passion for math (which I cannot directly relate to). When Katherine enrolls in Master’s and Doctoral programs, she is the only woman in her graduating classes and struggles to find acceptance.

Complicating matters is the revelation that Katherine’s parents have been keeping secrets about her identity, which has a surprising connection to WWII Germany. Accepting a role as a visiting researcher in Germany gives Katherine the opportunity to explore this relationship–though she will certainly learn some dark truths about her family and the mathematicians she idolizes. While the ending feels a bit rushed, Chung tells a unique story that seamlessly blends together themes of family, identity, and the weight of women’s decisions in a world very much tied to patriarchal values.

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Title

What the Eyes Don’t See

Author

Mona Hanna-Attisha

Format

eAudioboook

Review

The true story of a whistle blower in the Flint water crisis, Hanna-Attisha’s memoir is compelling in the way all tragedies are. A local pediatrician (who narrates her own book), Hanna-Attisha’s compassion for the children in her care is the force motivating everything she’s done. When she notices high levels of lead in the blood test results of many patients, she refuses to let it go until she’s done absolutely everything she can. But what can a pediatrician do to address crumbling infrastructure, intentional cost-cutting to the detriment of well-being, and governmental commitment to ignore or even cover up the crisis? Quite a lot, actually.

Connecting the story of the Flint water crisis to her experiences growing up as the child of Iraqi immigrants, Hanna-Attisha doesn’t shy away from bringing her personal life into the memoir. As a narrator, her passion for the subject and commitment to serving the families of Flint come through effectively. Though this book haunts my dreams and makes me hesitate whenever I turn on the faucet, it tells an important story and tells it well.

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Title

Sabrina & Corina

Author

Kali Fajardo-Anstine

Format

Book

Review

Not going to lie, I picked this one up for the cover, which gave me Frida Kahlo vibes in all of the best ways.

Fajardo-Anstine’s short stories are interested in themes surrounding family relationships: those between siblings, parents and children, large extended families. She explores the role of tradition, Latinx and Native American identities, and the roles of women in community and as individuals.

“Sisters” stands out as an especially heartbreaking tale, as Fajardo-Anstine sets up the events leading to a young woman losing her eyesight. Protagonist Doty lives with her sister in 1950s Colorado, but the two won’t be able to afford this arrangement forever. As the sisters go on a series of double dates, Doty feels the pressure for marriage even as she feels absolutely no attraction to her boyfriend. What options does a single Latinx woman have when she barely makes a living wage?

I also enjoyed the story “Remedies,” which details the brief but significant relationship between the narrator Clarisa and her half-brother. The titular remedies are those Clarisa’s great-grandmother uses to cure everything from a headache to the flu. However, these remedies cannot be used for the persistent head lice that afflict Clarisa and her half-brother Harrison, whom Great-Grandma despises. Clarisa’s unconventional mother works hard to maintain the relationship between the half-siblings, efforts that Clarisa most definitely does not appreciate.

To be honest, though, I can’t think of a single story that wasn’t well-crafted and interested in compelling themes and characters.

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Title

Girl Waits with Gun

Author

Amy Stewart

Format

eAudiobook

Review

Constance Kopp, eldest of three sisters who live on a farm in 1910s New Jersey, just wants one thing: for the factory owner who ran into their buggy with his car to pay the money he owes for repairs. Unfortunately, Henry Kaufman, the factory owner in question, is an entitled tool who is disinclined to entertaining the demands of women. Facing threats against her youngest sister, broken windows, and attempted arson (all to avoid a $50 fine), Constance remains steadfast in her commitment to seeing justice done.

Based on a true story, Stewart creates a fun adventure that is meticulously researched; not only are the initial events true, but many of the happenings in the novel are pulled straight from the headlines of the day. Constance went on to become one of the first female deputy sheriffs, and by all accounts was as tough as nails as she is in this telling. The narrator of the audiobook does an admirable job of giving each sister a distinct voice that reflects her character, as well as some memorable scruffy man voices.

What are you reading (or listening to)?

Header photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

Book Reviews, books

Checking out the Book: Done with You, Reality

As a librarian and bibliophile, I fully endorse supporting authors by purchasing their work. However, as an overly cautious and quite stingy person, I also wholly believe in checking out the book from the library first. Otherwise, if you’re anything like me, you will unconsciously put a LOT of pressure on a $20 or $30 book to be the next great novel rather than simply enjoying it (unless it was on the $2 bargain shelves). And you may or may not just let that book sit on the shelf anywhere from a year until the rest of your life.

As such, most of my recent reads are library books. Here are a few I’ve enjoyed lately–mostly because they offer an escape from our reality in some way.

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Title

The Downstairs Girl

Author

Stacey Lee

Format

Book

Review

I would have absolutely devoured this as a teen since it’s the stuff of which my dreams were made. Set in 1890s Atlanta, Lee tells the story of Jo Kuan, a Chinese-American teen with a talent for styling the hair and hats of many a Southern belle. When she loses her job without cause (aka racism), Jo is forced to work as a lady’s maid once again for , a particularly ill-tempered belle. However, Jo pursues her passions by secretly writing an advice column for a local paper, while seeking the truth about the identity of her parents, who left her in the care of the elderly (and aptly named) Old Gin.

I love Jo’s snarky humor in her advice column, as well as the many characters and stories intersecting here. There are certainly unlikeable characters aplenty, but Lee is reluctant to dismiss them or their concerns, peeling back their identities to reveal barriers created by race, nationality, poverty, gender, and sexual orientation (yes, even you, white Southern dudes of the 1800s).  I especially enjoy the relationships Jo shares with friends Robby and Noemi, whose experiences depict the lives of African-American workers in the Reconstruction South.

Recommended for…

My period drama lovers who enjoy social critique (so, like, all period drama lovers).

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Title

The Memoirs of Lady Trent

Author

Marie Brennan

Format

Book

Review

What’s your vision of the year 5658? Robots? Flying cars? A landscape devastated by climate change? Marie Brennan’s version of the future looks a lot more like the past than present, as reflected by the Victorian-inspired memoirs of naturalist and adventurer Isabella Camhurst. Fascinated by dragons at an early age, Isabella is off exploring the species in distant lands as soon as she can ditch the high society of a thinly veiled England (aka Scirland).

If this sounds cringey and insensitive re: colonialism, Brennan is very aware of England’s sordid past, and the misdeeds (i.e. genocide) of its explorers. She vividly brings to life the cultures represented here–West Africa, Polynesia, Eastern Europe–while her self-aware heroine recognizes her limits as a cultural observer.

Recommended for…

My period drama lovers who appreciate an escapist fantasy. And for my fellow readers reluctant to commit to a five book series, the lack of major cliffhangers makes this one easy to pick up for a book or two (or complete the series, as I’m planning to do).

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Title

Herakles

Author

Edouard Cour

Format

Graphic novel

Review

Just in case your only experience with the legend of Herakles is the Disney film, prepare to be disillusioned. Rather than a lesson in perseverance, the life of Herakles is yet another tale underscoring the degree to which mortals are merely the playthings of the gods. Through trial after trial, Herakles works to prove himself worthy of god status, but all he seems capable of is embroiling himself more deeply into trouble and invoking the wrath of the gods. I guess he gets a nice lion pelt out of all this, at least.

Herakles is often blindly vengeful and stupid, but it’s nevertheless difficult not to feel for him.  He seems to be so little in control of his life that you can’t really blame him for pursuing an endless series of trials in vain. That’s life, eh? No wonder the Abrahamic faiths took over from here…the legend of Herakles is too bleak even to come from the mind of Nietzsche.

Recommended for…

People sick to death of toxic masculinity. Also kids who have to take a course in the Classics and want to skip to the interesting bits.

What are you reading, library book or no?

Header photo by Devon Divine on Unsplash

a person sits on a bench reading next to a stand that contains 15 cubes filled with books
Book Reviews, books

Summer Is for Comics

Earlier this month, NPR released the results of their summer comics and graphic novel poll.

I could honestly die a happy woman because My Favorite Thing Is Monsters made the list, along with Through the Woods and Bitch Planet.  But it’s me, so obviously I have thoughts about the list and some favorites that didn’t make the cut.

In somewhat particular order, here is my addendum of 12 favorite graphic novels I love just as much, whether they receive NPR recognition or not:

  1. Asterios Polyp (David Mazzucchelli)
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    The tragic story of a pretentious professor of architecture whose designs have never been built.  Somehow he still manages to be sympathetic and human if not especially likeable. With the added bonus of beautiful illustrations, ghosts of dead twins, and more parallels to Greek mythology than you can shake a stick at.
  2. Berlin (Jason Lutes)
    438068
    Not least because I’ve been waiting for vol 3 for 9 years.  NINE.  (In his latest interview, Lutes claimed the last volume should be out next year, but I’ll believe it when I see it.)  Striking black-and-white illustrations with keen attention to period detail combine with memorable characters to create a compelling story.  Silvia the communist street brawler is my favorite (of course).
  3. Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes (Mary and Bryan Talbot)
    Dotter of Her Father's Eyes
    Scholar Mary Talbot and her cartoonist husband tell a story that works as both a biographical portrait of Joyce and personal memoir.  Talbot draws parallels to Joyce’s troubled relationship with his daughter and her own difficult relationship with her father, a renowned Joycean scholar.
  4. Ethel & Ernest (Raymond Briggs)
    402252
    Though The Snowman is his most famous work, this biography of Briggs’s parents is my favorite of his works.  Ethel and Ernest seem to be the only unchanging fixtures as time passes in 20th century London.  This quiet portrait of everyday life for a middle class London family is fascinating and exactly the kind of history I love to read about.
  5. Giant Days (John Allison)
    Giant Days #19
    Funny and touching story about a group of friends navigating their way through university.  Be warned this gets way too real at times as the characters face disappointment, failure, and some steep learning curves on the way to adulthood…but at the end of the day, the characters’ relationships are there to help them bounce back.
  6. The Fade Out (Ed Brubaker)
    23093372This 1940s noir-style story of murder and the seedy underbelly of Hollywood glam makes this so far up my street it’s not even funny.  The story begins with the murder of an actress, but of course we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on the shady goings-on underneath the glitz of show business.
  7. Super Spy, Mind MGMT, and pretty much anything else by Matt Kindt
    589072
    His illustrations and inking are gorgeous, and things are never as they seem in his work. Frequently his stories revolve around tough ladies in espionage dealing with a gritty, unglamorous reality—my favorite kind.
  8. Widdershins (Kate Ashwin)
    18710780
    Magic in a Regency England setting with a series of sarcastic badass ladies and appropriately incompetent men!  This webcomic is such a delight to read and is all free online.
  9. The Green River Killer (Jonathan Case)
    Green River Killer
    I was reluctant to pick this up because I find a lot of true crime stories sleazy and just badly written. Case avoids sensationalizing the story here (as much as possible), taking time to examine the investigation and its toll on the police force.  I would add The New Deal and anything else by Case as well—I have yet to read a book of his I haven’t enjoyed.
  10. Shutter (Joe Keatinge)
    23093369
    This is mostly here because I adore the talking cat alarm clock that keeps our protagonist company and I really need one of my own.  Also noteworthy are the LGBTQ characters and their story lines in this fast-paced comic whose many twists and turns will keep you guessing.
  11. Princeless:  Raven the Pirate Princess (Jeremy Whitley)
    28434612
    Though I haven’t kept up with this series, volume 1 is hilarious and makes a deliberate effort to represent women of color, multiple sexual orientations, and various body types.  The commentary here is smart and so relevant…plus who would turn down a story about an all-female pirate crew?
  12. Alabaster: Wolves (Caitlin Kiernan)
    16136945
    An albino teen is guided by angels to destroy vampires, demons, and all sorts of sinister creatures in the swamps of an eerily empty South Carolina.  Things get interesting right away as our protagonist begins to doubt her guardian angel and is drawn to a girl who may be something other than she appears.  Vol 1 is a compelling mixture of action and eerie silences in a decidedly Southern Gothic tradition.

Needless to say, my TBR list has now grown to an unmanageable length thanks to all of the titles include on NPR’s list (including Blacksad, a noir about a black cat PI?!?!?).  What are you reading this summer?

Cover photo by Laetitia Buscaylet on Unsplash
Book Reviews, books

Book Review: Speak by Louisa Hall

Speak

Louisa Hall

336 pages

cover art for the book Speak

Speak is a science-fiction novel featuring artificial intelligence, totalitarian responses to uncannily lifelike AI, and computer prodigies, but its focus (like all sci-fi that I can think of, frankly) is on humans and humanity.  Hall explores humanity by weaving several different storylines together.  I admit I’m a sucker for novels in which seemingly separate stories come together, and much of the force driving this novel forward comes from piecing together where the connections are.  Refreshingly, I found all of the stories compelling and never felt the urge to skip through any of the sections.

We follow the history of the human search for meaning through time, beginning with Mary, a young Puritan dreading the life she will have with a new husband in the New World.  Mary’s narration is possibly my favorite as it’s full of energy, intelligence, and overconfidence in her understanding of the world.

A close second is the fictionalized letters of Alan Turing, which reveal his brilliance and isolation.  Hall perfectly balances the tragic elements of his life with his energy and wit.

Hall smoothly transitions us into the sci-fi elements of the story, beginning with a scientist hoping to reconnect with his wife.  His wife, on the other hand, is much more interested in speaking with the AI he helped develop than saving their marriage.

We jump farther forward in time to hear from a scientist and inventor imprisoned for life for his role in creating extremely lifelike AI that served as companions for children, which have since been banned.  However, after this type of AI is banned, an entire generation is left with physical and emotional illnesses, unable to form meaningful connections with humans.

Like virtually every other work tackling AI, Speak considers what it means to be human if we can create machines that can replace the appearance, interaction, and emotional work that humans perform.  Does AI make us more or less human?  And can we consider AI itself human?

There is a certain amount of sadness to the stories told here, but this novel is more of an exploration than a tragedy.  All of the consequences the characters suffer, no matter how terrible, ultimately arise from curiosity and the need for understanding.  If anything the tragedy lies in the number of characters who inevitably make themselves unknowable and unknowing in their search for a connection.

I’d call this sci-fi with an emphasis on language and a haunting/hopeful tone.  For fans of Margaret Atwood and weirdly Colum McCann?  Beautiful prose, you guys.

The Rating:

5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Book Reviews, books

Book Review: The Broken Kingdoms and The Kingdom of the Gods

Unlike 75% of series I’ve started reading, I actually finished this one!  Thoughts on books 2 and 3 of N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance trilogy follow.  Warning:  there are some spoilers.

The Broken Kingdoms

N.K. Jemisin

Total pages:  432

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When we left Yeine in book 1 of the series, there had been some major challenges to the structures of power in both the god and mortal realms.

One of the mortals making sense of the events of book 1 is Oree, a blind artist who sells her goods in the literal lower level of the capital (in a brilliant move, Jemisin has the Arameri section of the capital literally float above everyone else).

This story is more of a mystery as Oree attempts to figure out why, as a mortal, she is in possession of some god-like abilities as well as who is responsible for a series of godling murders in the city.

Oree is cool, but not anywhere near as cool as Yeine.  Additionally, the god who gets the most attention in this volume is Itempas, that unyielding asshole who killed his sister and enslaved his brother.  You might think that after being stripped of his powers, banished, and forced to prove his worthiness as of the end of book 1, that Itempas might be a more sympathetic character.  But nooooooooooooooooooooo, he’s still a dick and does nothing to earn the kindness Oree shows him.  There’s also a rather heartbreaking murder that might make you uncharitably think Itempas should have died instead, even though that’s not how murders work.

Overall, this one feels like a bit of a repeat of book 1 but with less interesting characters, and a mystery that is solved too early.  Add to this a surprise baby plus the fact that I just cannot stand Itempas, and I really didn’t enjoy this one.

The Kingdom of Gods

Total pages:  613

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Shifting perspective yet again, we get our first book in the series narrated entirely by a godling, Sieh.  If you pick up this series, you will immediately recognize Sieh as the trickster figure of the gods.  He frequently adopts the form of a child and maintains a playful innocence, though he has certainly caused as much death and destruction as any of his other godling siblings.  Unfortunately, Sieh’s appearance means a lot of really disturbing things happened to him while he and the other godlings were enslaved.  So, rather interestingly, Sieh is perhaps the only god in fiction who is a survivor of sexual abuse.

As book 3 opens, Sieh has bonded with Arameri siblings and sworn enemies Shahar and Deka.  Remember how the Arameri are the ruling class who enslaved the gods in book 1?  Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah.  I think what’s most annoying about this book is how unclear the timeline is; it’s definitely been some time since the events of book 1, but I could never figure out how much time has passed.

Anyway, as Sieh makes a vow to be to be Shahar and Deka’s bff, he suddenly loses control over his own actions and his status as a godling.  As a mortal, Sieh now must contend with aging and the possibility of his own death.  He also gets betrayed by every.  Single.  Mortal.  In this book.  Yet is still completely blindsided every time it happens.

The biggest takeaway for me here is that you can be a centuries-old god and still not understand people.  I feel you, Sieh.

Will Sieh regain his immortality?  What’s up with someone murdering Arameri?  Could this be connected to Sieh’s mortality?  And, of course, will he sleep with one sibling, two, or none of the above?  Will you care or will it take all of your willpower not to cross out all of the parts with Shahar and Deka?

As a whole, I found the plot of this one more confusing than the first 2 and just didn’t care about Shahar or Deka at all.  The character who I found most intriguing was Oree’s daughter, Glee, who unfortunately is a somewhat minor character.  It makes me upset she wasn’t the focus of book 2 instead of Oree, or had her own book at some point in this series.  I can dream.

Assorted Thoughts:

Yeine isn’t nearly as present in volumes 2 and 3 of this trilogy, which is one of the biggest reasons I didn’t enjoy the other 2 books nearly as much.  Same goes for Nahadoth.  And though there isn’t a character without flaws in this series (which is a strength for sure), it was still disappointing to see them make bad and even cruel decisions, especially in book 2.  Additionally, there are really no good alternatives to get attached to—none of the other mortals are that interesting, and don’t even get me started on Itempas.

Perhaps what pissed me off most is that Itempas never really seems to earn his redemption.  His essential nature doesn’t change because he’s a god…but I feel even gods shouldn’t be allowed to be such giant assholes.  How does he still have followers???

However, I will say this series is truly original and completely subverts expectations.  One of the big themes is the cyclical nature of everything, which is reflected in Jemisin leaving a lot unresolved.  You will either appreciate that or it will drive you slowly insane.  Or both.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I LOVE the first book and definitely recommend.  I think it stands up well on its own, though you will probably be left wanting more Yeine/Nahadoth.  Sorry, but you won’t find it in the sequels.

Book Reviews, books

Book Review: Brighton Rock

I almost bought a copy of this novel in Brighton, which would have been perfect, but I hated the cover.  Apparently it’s a thing to have cartoony characters on the cover of this novel, which makes no sense because, in true Graham Greene fashion, the closest it comes to humor is bitterness.

There are some spoilers in this review…but this novel is nearly 80 years old and has been made into 2 different movies.  At a certain point you might want to just accept you’re never going to read it.

Brighton Rock

Graham Greene

Total pages:  247

Important note:  this is connected to another Graham Greene novel, A Gun for Sale.  However, I maintain it’s really not necessary to read the other one before this.  But who knows, I could be missing information that would bring new meaning to my reading of Brighton Rock.

Other note:  Brighton rock does not refer to a geological formation (as I believed for a really long time), but a candy stick you can buy in every.  Single.  Shop in Brighton.  The stick reads “Brighton rock” on both ends and all the way through.

a piece of Brighton Rock, a striped stick of candy wrapped in a label that reads "Brighton rock"

Our story follows the leader of a 1930s Brighton gang in the aftermath of a murder.  Pinkie Brown is a cold, ruthless 18-year-old psychopath whose grey eyes give “an effect of heartlessness like an old man’s in which human feeling has died.”  (God damn, Graham Greene.)  Following the murder of his gang leader, Pinkie is in charge of those loyal enough to remain, and his first order of business is vengeance.

Pinkie’s target is Fred Hale, a man who betrayed the gang leader in some way, presumably (I can’t claim I understand how gangs work at all).  Just before Fred’s murder (spoiler, but I don’t think Fred even makes it to page 30), he encounters the easy-going Ida, whose bosom is described in virtually every chapter.  When Fred disappears, Ida is extremely suspicious and refuses to rest until she discovers the truth about what’s happened.

As Ida pursues Pinkie, Pinkie pursues Rose, a teenager who unknowingly holds a key piece of evidence that could implicate Pinkie in murder.  Even though the idea of romance is utterly repellent to Pinkie and he sees the traditional path of marriage and children as a slow death, he convinces Rose he loves her in order to dissuade her from talking to anyone about what she knows.  Is he willing to sacrifice his “bitter virginity” (whatever the fuck that means), his freedom, and even his eternal soul in order to keep Rose quiet?

Like basically every other Graham Greene novel ever written, this one is highly critical of the Catholic Church.  Pinkie and Rose are both Catholic, in contrast with Ida, who isn’t religious but spiritual and has a few weird superstitions about ghosts and Ouija boards.  As a child, Pinkie wanted to be a priest, and Greene draws parallels between his contempt for the rest of humanity, indifference to suffering, and disdain of sex and romantic love with the Catholic Church.  Greene also prods quite a bit at the two Catholic characters’ willingness to sin despite the promise of eternal damnation, going so far as to say “a Catholic is more capable of evil than anyone” (246).  (Ha ha, since this isn’t an English paper, I can end this paragraph with a quote and refuse to offer any explanation whatsoever!)

For some reason I didn’t get into his the first time around I tried it, but I LOVED it this time.  It’s outrageously cynical, and the only novel I can think of in which a candy tourists buy in Brighton is used as a metaphor for the inescapability of human nature.

Fair warning that you’ll have to deal with a reasonable amount of dated ‘30s slang that feels made up, esp. re:  women.  (Both “buer” and “polony” get thrown around A LOT and I still don’t fully understand what either means.  I just kept thinking of Polonius from Hamlet and also Thelonious Monk every time someone used the word “polony.”)

The end also gets a bit melodramatic, and it’s hard not to imagine physically throwing Rose.  She’s an idiot.  Most frustrating is that Ida, the only likeable character, gets quite a lot of focus at the beginning of the novel, but then Pinkie receives more and more attention.  I was so excited when I thought (however briefly) this was actually a female-centric Greene novel.

My favorite quote is also a good test of whether you might enjoy this one or find it too dark and cynical:  “That was what happened to a man in the end: the stuffy room, the wakeful children, the Saturday night movements from the other bed. Was there no escape––anywhere––for anyone? It was worth murdering a world” (92).  Chills, you guys.

5/5 Pink Panther Heads

The Spectator’s review on the back of the book says of Greene, “Entertaining he may always be; comforting, never,” which I think is the most accurate description of his novels I’ve ever read.  (And at the same time seems a bit like backhanded praise and also possibly written by Yoda?)  I can’t think of another writer quite like Greene; perhaps Cormac McCarthy in terms of bleakness?  John Le Carré in terms of suspense and a darker take on spying (as in The Quiet American)?  William Golding for shared views on human nature?  He’s not quite like any other writer I can think of, which is why I love him so much.

Btw, there’s apparently a 1947 film version that scandalized the nation for being too violent, which I cannot WAIT to see.

Book Reviews, books

Book Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Since Invasion of the Tearling was such a letdown, I’ve been searching for another fantasy series to get lost in.  Say hello to book 1 of N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance trilogy.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

N.K. Jemisin

Total pages:  425

Btw, I exercise more caution about spoiling books than movies, but there are still a reasonable number of spoilers here.

Though The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms begins with a premise so worn in fantasy that you think you know exactly where it’s going, don’t worry–YOU DON’T.

Yeine is our narrator, a young Darr woman of color living in a warrior clan of low prestige in this world order.  She is far removed from the ruling class, the Arameri, who oversee all of the hundred thousand kingdoms.  Though her mother was Arameri, Yeine is deliberately ignored since she is the mixed race product of an Arameri/Darr marriage.  To put things in perspective, it’s not out of the ordinary for the Arameri to go full on Targaryen and marry their own siblings.  Gross.  They’re pretty fucking serious about keeping the bloodline “pure.”  Again, gross.

Also important information about the world in which this trilogy is set:  there are 3 main gods and many godlings, many of which live amongst humans or at least make the occasional appearance to mortals.  The 3 gods ruled together as siblings/lovers (word of caution:  you have to accept or at least acknowledge a lot of incest in this series) until the jealous god Itempas killed his sister Enefa and enslaved his brother Nahadoth.  Now basically all except Itempas and those godlings who sided with him are enslaved as Arameri servants.  It definitely blows to be a god if you’re not even omnipotent.

Anyway, Yeine’s story begins when she is thrust into courtly life as a result of her grandfather, ruler of the Arameri, naming her as one of his heirs.  You’ll note she is one of his heirs—the Arameri are pretty fucked up and conduct a Hunger Games­-style competition for power until only one heir remains.

So based on all of this, you may have several assumptions about where the plot is going (or at least I did).  These assumptions may include:  1.  Yeine will bond with her grandfather and finally feel like she has a real family.  2.  As a bonus, Yeine will get to know her mother better through heartwarming stories about her.  3.  The last heir standing will be Yeine.  All of these assumptions are wrong.

What we get instead is a court intrigue DRAMA, filled with conspiracies, betrayals, and straight-faced lies.  Yeine also has a serious flirtation going on with the Nightlord himself, Nahadoth.  I am basically always going to support a plot involving pursuing a relationship with a dark god because it makes me envision men with a shitload of eyeliner and I’m into that.

Yeine is amazing as a character and narrator, Nahadoth just sounds insanely attractive, and there are a handful of interesting minor characters thrown in too.  Jemisin provides extremely apt social commentary and leaves virtually no stone unturned on issues of race, gender, sexuality, religion, and socioeconomic status.  I loved this one so much I think it could stand on its own (and definitely recommend reading it).

The Rating:

5/5 Pink Panther Heads