My first cannonball review! I’ve been a long-time reader of Pajiba and last year was the first time I started tracking the books I read a bit more intentionally, albeit in a spreadsheet, so two of my interests are really coinciding here. Anyways, on to the book.
First of all, N.K. Jemisin is just flat-out an amazing writer. The story is presented as three parallel narratives, all from the point-of-view of the main character at different points in her life. It takes a few chapters to figure out what is going on, but once you follow the narrative shifts and the language (aka learning this series’ made up words) it is incredibly easy to fall into this world. This is one of the books that is immediately interesting, grabbing your attention but taking a bit of time to really hit its stride. Then, around page 100 or so, you realize that this is the type of book that is going to be finished in one sitting.
This is a science-fiction/fantasy book and it certainly makes sense that this book was awarded the Hugo Award. Jemisin does an incredible job world-building and the three narrative tracks allow her to build almost separate worlds, bringing them together in the last hundred pages or so. Each journey is, for the most part, paired by a mysterious male companion, which serves as a clever exposition device to dive into the backstory and machinations of the world. The “magic” of the world is handled almost vaguely, but it works well. There is no deep dive in the intricacies of the how of the powers and when characters tap into the mystical elements of the world, the results are aggressive, brutish, and rapid. Jemisin describes these events akin to car crashes, with a lack of specifics that make the events seem like slow-motion acts of destruction.
The character work is top-notch. This is the fantasy book for the modern world, complete with a non-white, non-cis, non-heterosexual dominated focus. The characters of the book feel real and each of the different main characters point-of-view sections gives you different facets of this person responding to their environment, whether through fear, anger and arrogance, or desperation and rage. The characters of Alabaster and Innon practically leap off the page as fully-fledged humans.
This is honestly one of the best introductions to a fantasy series that I have ever read and the fact that the entire series is out is just extra goodness. There is no waiting for the undetermined time when the author will finally wrap things up. I actually have already purchased book 2 and 3, I am just trying to hold off on reading them until a beach trip in late February. I’m dubious I’ll make it.