I wish this book had been written back while I was in university writing my master's dissertation. It really would have added to the discussion on ide...moreI wish this book had been written back while I was in university writing my master's dissertation. It really would have added to the discussion on identity issues with regards to gender, race and sexuality, and would have fit perfectly alongside Octavia E. Butler's Wild Seed and Nalo Hopkinson's The Salt Roads (which were the two books around which I constructed my study). N.K. Jemisin's debut novel really made me want to go back to university and pursue a thesis. This book is so rich, complex, beautifully written, at times fast-paced, at others introspective and touching, sexy. The world-building is excellent and the characters exquisitely rendered. This is exactly the book I wanted to read! It pushed all the right buttons.
I've always had a soft spot for books (genre or otherwise) that dealt with questions of identity, probably because these are the questions I struggle with on daily basis. And I do mean identity in a very general sense: sexual and/or racial representation, fragmented identity based on context, notions of minority and majority, normalcy, dominating and dominated. All these are very flexible notions depending on history (personal or History), context, interactions, etc. And this is what I enjoyed above all in THTK, everything is flexible, ever-changing and the character which most embodies this is Nahadoth, God of all that is extreme, dark and passionate. His apparance constantly changes to please and seduce all those around him. It's a fascinating concept really.
There is also much to say on the main character. Yeine (pronounced "YAY-neh") is one of a kind and is really up to the task of carrying this remarkable, multi-layered narration. The reader aches and easily relates to her as we discover her struggling between her upbringing (she was raised in a matriarchal society, I wish we'd learned more about that in the book, it is sooo cool!), her royal inheritance and a little something else which I won't go into lest I spoil you all of this wonderful plot twist. Little more than a pawn in the eyes of most of her royal peers, she will manage to turn things around and make with all that she is, bring all the pieces together but not into some nicely homogeneous whole.
It's a truly brilliant book and so much needs to be said about it. I am, of course, eagerly awaiting book 2, The Broken Kingdoms, which comes out this November. In the meantime, I can already tell you that THTK easily ranks among my favorite reads of 2010 (and my favorite reads period). I look forward to re-reading it in French when it comes out in Calmann-Lévy's wonderful and really underrated Interstices series.
I can't recommend this book enough, it grabbed me and didn't let me go until long after I'd finished and set it down.(less)
Buckell himself has described the book as: "A far-future Caribbean steampunk adventure . . . with Aztecs." And that sums it up pretty nicely.
Nanagada...moreBuckell himself has described the book as: "A far-future Caribbean steampunk adventure . . . with Aztecs." And that sums it up pretty nicely.
Nanagada is a peaceful country/continent inhabited mainly by fishermen and farmers. John DeBrun washed up the tropical shores of the continent twenty-seven years ago and with no memory of his past life. Since then, he's settled with his wife Shanta and their thirteen year old son, Jerome. But a threat from across the Wicked Highs, the Azteca ruled by bloodthirsty gods/aliens, might put an end to all of this. John DeBrun's past is closely linked to Nanagada's past and to the tales of the old-fathers who initially came to the planet through a worm hole. And so, along with John, the reader gradually discovers what's become of the original settlers, their link to Earth, their technology and the last mythical artifact they might have left behind, the Ma Wi Jung, which just might save Nanagada from the Azteca invasion.
I loved this book. It was original, refreshing, fast paced with a strong plot. I simply could not put it down.
Of course, reading a science fiction book in which they talk about plantain, tamarind and carnival brought me years back when I was still in Sint Marteen. So obviously this book touched me on a very personal level. But I strongly believe that even if you have no ties with the Caribbean, the story will grab your attention and hold it until the very last page.
What I was initially afraid of was a machiavelic portrayal of the Azteca as just being pure evil and that we would never get to discover their motivations and the reasons behind their way of life. But not only is one of the main characters some sort of double agent spying for the Azteca in Nanagada, but Buckell also describes a community of Azteca who have immigrated to Capitol City where they lead more or less peaceful lives.
This novel is perfect illustration of diversity. Much like in the Caribbean, the inhabitants of Nanagada have different skin colors, any shade from white to black. But more than just physical appearance, Buckell's done a wonderful work on language, including accents, dialects and also, mentioning the fact that one person may have different accents and adopt one or the other according to the situation or the person they are addressing. This is something which often happens in the Caribbean and it was nice to see it highlighted here. I suppose it is the case of most places in which identities are blurred or multifaceted.
Buckell's ability to portray different shades of gray on all levels (skin color, language, character, etc.) is definitely what I consider the true strength of the novel.
My only complaint would be the lack of female character development. There is Dihana, Nanagada's Prime Minister. But the reader is given the impression that throughout the book she is overwhelmed by the situation and in a constant search for support (who wouldn't be if your country was invaded by blood thirsty killing machines?). There wasn't much that she could really do except buy some time, hoping for others to succeed.
Early 20th century. Zane Pinchback, light skinned African American, is a reporter for the New York Herald. His secret alias "Incognegro" is famous for...moreEarly 20th century. Zane Pinchback, light skinned African American, is a reporter for the New York Herald. His secret alias "Incognegro" is famous for denouncing the lynchings taking place in the American South. Thanks to his skin color, Zane can easily "pass" and thus, investigate these lynchings, making sure the names of those responsible are made public.
Johnson does a spectacular work at demonstrating in what ways and to what extent race is a social construct that, in the end, has nothing to do with skin color at all. Let me quote one of my favorite parts:
"That's one thing that most of us know that most white folks don't. That race doesn't really exist. Culture? Ethnicity? Sure class too. But race is just a bunch of rules meant to keep us on the bottom. Race is a strategy. The rest is just people acting. Playing roles"
And the main character, Zane Pinchback perfectly illustrates this. He pretends that he's white and thus experiences no trouble whatsoever in being considered as such.
I highly recommend this book. Again, this is completely outside of my usual reading habits, I rarely read mainstream comics and I don't read mystery, but I enjoyed it immensely. It's a wonderful illustration of race as well as a remarkable reflexion on identity in general and the way we define ourselves.(less)
Have you ever felt so enthralled by a book that you’re reluctant to pick another one right after (poor Clash of Kings lol!)? Have you ever read a book...moreHave you ever felt so enthralled by a book that you’re reluctant to pick another one right after (poor Clash of Kings lol!)? Have you ever read a book and thought: this is exactly the kind of book I’ve been wanting to read? Well, I hadn’t for quite sometimes but I’ve felt it again for Wild Seed.
In Wild Seed, Butler tells us the story of Doro who is immortal thanks to his body changing ability. He is the descendant of people with unusual abilities. Unfortunately, these people seems to have all died out and centuries later (Doro is over three thousand years old) their abilities are less present among their descendants. Doro therefore creates several settlements regrouping all the people with special abilities that he can find on every continent (mostly in Africa at first where the tale begins in 1690) and he breeds them.
He stumbles upon Anyanwu when she is already three hundred years old. Anyanwu is a shape shifter and a remarkable healer, in addiction to being the only other immortal being besides Doro. Doro cannot pass on a chance of submitting her to his will and transforming her in another one of his breeding specimens. But Anyanwu is not used to not getting things done her way and so begins a battle of will and power that lasts over several centuries.
Butler does an incredibly wonderful job at depicting these two entities and their numerous children. She builds a world of myth and superstition and yet, raises issues as crucial as slavery (it is afterall a light kind of historical novel), race (Anyanwu and Doro can easily become white) and gender (the role and place of women during slavery + at some point, Doro inhabits the body of a woman and Anyanwu is impersonating a man), death (as Doro inevitably kills each and everyone of his hosts which doesn’t do well for Anyanwu), genetics and heredity.
From the first page I was gripped. It’s hard to put into words… it was just the general atmosphere of the book that pleased instantly.
Wild Seed is part of the Patternmaster Series but I believe that you can read them in just about any order. I know that another book involves Doro before he met Anyanwu.(less)
You would thing that the fact that Charles R. Saunders is a writer and a damn good one at that would be common knowledge by now. The man has been writ...moreYou would thing that the fact that Charles R. Saunders is a writer and a damn good one at that would be common knowledge by now. The man has been writing since the seventies and despite the lack of literary acknowledgement he has received from the genre, he has kept to it and his fans are glad he did.
One thing I love about Saunders’ work is that he manages to illustrate just to what extent the English language is rich and diverse (and believe compared to languages like French, it’s not ; not trying to be condescending here, just pointing out that we have more words than you do and that’s a fact). His sentences are always balanced and lovely and he is among the few writer who draw you in, not thanks to plot or characterization, but because you can’t get enough of his wonderful prose.
Saunders does not write long, complicated plots which unwrap in a minimum of a thousand pages. No. With Saunders, you’re back to basics, back to the magic that makes a good book and that, ladies and gents, is good writing.
If you’ve ever read anything by this author, you know that he is a short story writer and you can tell that even his novels are in fact, short stories put together and woven to give the appearance of continuity when in fact, you could read them separately and enjoy them nevertheless.
For all those reasons, Saunders is not good commercial material, because he doesn’t write 2 000 pages trilogies set in Celtic inspired environments, because you occasionally need to open a dictionary, because he’s most brilliant in short form, because of all this, Saunders has to rely on self-publishing to keep his work out there. And that’s a shame.
For those of you not familiar with this author, know that he is most famous for his Imaro series which originally came out in the seventies. After a long interruption, the series was picked up by Nightshade Books about two years ago. They intended to bring this author and his works out of the shadow, but things did not go as planned. Nightshade was only able to publish the first two Imaro books before sales numbers forced them to once again give up on this underrated author.
I was afraid Saunders would give up after that but no, the author bounced back and (self)published a new series, Dossouye.
Now, my only problem with Imaro was that it was a very masculine environment in which women had little or no role to play besides sitting and being pretty. So when I heard that Saunders’ new hero was in fact a heroine, a female warrior the likes of the Amazons, I got very excited and I wasn’t disappointed. (less)
This is the second and final book in the series Wang and it's definitely a nice wrap up to the overall series as it ties up all the loose ends and fin...more This is the second and final book in the series Wang and it's definitely a nice wrap up to the overall series as it ties up all the loose ends and finally leaves our main characters in a comfortable place... Perhaps it even wrapped things up a bit too nicely for my taste.
The first book ended with the Fredric Alexandre winning the Uchronic Games against all odds, mostly thanks to the Chinese immigrant Wang. The second book opens on another final of the Uchronic Games, two years later. The mixed feelings and jealousy Fredric experiences towards his first officer Wang are quite obvious and render their military association somewhat hazardous.
Outside the Games, the stakes are still the same: Western Nations are attempting to fight an invisible enemy whose numbers are fewer but which possesses a greater and much more advanced technology. This enemy sees in Wang the one who will lead the immigrants' army and bring down the electro-magnetic wall which separates the West from the rest of the world and bring an end to Western domination.
The first 150 pages take place during the Uchronic Games and while there were some very poignant scenes illustrating the extent to which the immigrants are forced to go to in order to survive, 150 pages was just too long for me. And so, it momentarily suspended the pace of the series. But then, things started to get interesting again as soon as Wang was out of the Games and thrown into real life issues (though those being as life threatening as they were during the Games, you might not notice the difference).
My main complaint about this conclusion to the series is that it's been too well introduced, i.e. it renders the book too predictable. You know how it's going to end, you know why and there are very few surprises. I still consider it a worthwhile read, but the first book was far more interesting and engaging the second one. Still, if you've enjoyed the first volume, you need to read the second, it's still a very powerful conclusion but it definitely doesn't compare to the first. (less)
There are not many authors out there who can write entertaining fast-paced space opera stories, tightly built political intrigues and introduce divers...moreThere are not many authors out there who can write entertaining fast-paced space opera stories, tightly built political intrigues and introduce diversity in their cast of characters. Tobias Buckell is one such authors and does it all effortlessly it seems. Ragamuffin is smart, fast, serious science fiction but no info dumps. It's refreshing and highly recommended.
Book one, Crystal Rain, hit home because it took place in a Caribbean setting that reminded of my childhood. Book two, Ragamuffin, reminded of why I loved space opera so much.
Also note that, though this is the second book in the series, you may read them in whatever order you feel like. Another smart thing on the author's side: each book is standalone. Sure some characters appear in several or all three books, but you don't have to have read them all to enjoy. That's for all of you who are tired of never-ending genre series.
I'm eagerly waiting for Sly Mongoose (which is the third book and for now it seems final book in the series) to come out in paperback.(less)
I'm not quite sure what drove me to buy this book in particular. When I found out that Le Clézio had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature last y...moreI'm not quite sure what drove me to buy this book in particular. When I found out that Le Clézio had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature last year, I felt that, as a French reader, I needed to have at least read him once. So I browsed my local bookstore's shelves and found this little piece entitled The African (I'm not sure what it's been translated as or even if it's been translated in English at all. I know some of his works have been, but I'm not sure about this particular one.).
I came to this book knowing absolutely nothing about the author's life or works and I was a bit worried that this might turn out into some colonial like type of narration. And boy was I wrong.
This short autobiographical narration deals mainly with the author's father: this authoritarian, withdrawn and solemn father figure who is a stranger in his own country, in his own family, though, as a doctor, he is entirely devoted to his patients. A man who refused to conform to western hypocrisy and formality and decided to practice medecine throughout the world, namely South America and Africa. A character who has been changed by war and all that he's witnessed and that the narrator only meets once he is 8 years old. They meet in a strange land, when the narrator moves with his mother and his brother to Nigeria to join his father.
A short (124 pages!) touching and intriguing story written in a non linear manner and illustrated with pictures taken from the author's own archives. A great introduction to an unknown writer for me and which allowed me to learn about the author's life and to become more familiar with his soft and poetic prose.
After the Haitian revolution (1791-1804) which freed the island from French domination and put an end to slavery, Jean-Jacques Dessalines comes into p...moreAfter the Haitian revolution (1791-1804) which freed the island from French domination and put an end to slavery, Jean-Jacques Dessalines comes into power and rules as a despot. When he is murdered in 1806, the country is split in two: President Pétion rules over the South while Henri Christophe, proclaimed King Henry I, rules over the North.
The play tells the story of Christophe, from his accession to the throne to his death. It tells the story of men who freed their country from slavery and ended up turning into tyrants themselves. It's a very strong and poignant tragedy about decolonization which makes a point of highlighting the ridicule of Christophe's court which only aims at imitating the courts of Europe in search of legitimacy. It's a carefully constructed and written piece of work. Some images and phrases hold a very poetic note to them and sometimes you can't help but laugh out loud though you realize how sad the whole situation actually is. You fight for your freedom, you obtain it, you manage to keep it but what then? How are you to break the circle when you only have one model of governing to choose from?
A short read, a profound reflection. A must read for all those interested in issues of race and colonialism.
Brief note: I think the play deserved a proper introduction which gave a bit more context to the story but also to the place the story held in Césaire's work instead of the long and vague back cover it got. (less)
Now this is a comics everyone should read! Not only is the main character endearing and the story touching, the author does an amazing job at taking e...moreNow this is a comics everyone should read! Not only is the main character endearing and the story touching, the author does an amazing job at taking elements from the african american experience (Jim Crow laws, etc.) and introducing them, rewriting them in an imaginary world. this is a true work of re-appropriation that you can enjoy on various levels. (less)
A very rich and highly original narrative both in terms of world-building and themes. This is middle grade fiction at its best. I was especially amazz...moreA very rich and highly original narrative both in terms of world-building and themes. This is middle grade fiction at its best. I was especially amazzed at how the author mixed technology with nature. So imaginative! if you were as impressed as I were with this world, I recommend Nnedi Okorafor's short story published in Clarkesworld magazine: "From the Lost Diary of TreeFrog7". The short story is not YA but it give you another perspective on this wonderfully enchanting world the author's created.
I'll definitely be reading more of this author and not only because of work this time!(less)
A wonderful short novel about Tupac's influence on the African-American community, what he and his lyrics represented. A smart, complex and touching p...moreA wonderful short novel about Tupac's influence on the African-American community, what he and his lyrics represented. A smart, complex and touching portrait of racial tensions and gender issues in the early nineties. Highly recommended to all.(less)