There is a strange alchemy to a Megan Abbott book that never fails to amaze me.
Here, we have the Knoxes, a tight-knit family running like a well-oiledThere is a strange alchemy to a Megan Abbott book that never fails to amaze me.
Here, we have the Knoxes, a tight-knit family running like a well-oiled machine in support of the prodigious talent of their eldest daughter, Devon.
Devon's talent for gymnastics is born out of an early accident, for which both her parents still carry terrible guilt. And soon, there is another accident (or is it?) that threatens to send their well-regimented lives off the rails.
Abbott is so good at subverting the expected, flipping the script so that just like the narrator, Katie, you find yourself wondering how you ever believed what you did just pages before.
Her prose is deceptive, lithe and sinuous like the young gymnasts themselves. Shiny on the surface, but layered with darkness - like a formerly happy teenager gone almost feral from grief.
They feel real, this family, and the people around them. The book reels you in with a celebration, a party, and then chips away at what you think you know, at what the characters think they know.
It's masterful, what Abbott does, all the more so for seeming effortless. Keeping the pages turning, keeping the theories evolving, shading the characters one way and another in a way that makes them more complex, more flawed, more human.
The plot pushes forward like Devon sprinting to the vault. It makes leaps and almost impossible double-twists in the air, and it sticks the landing. Oh boy, does it stick the landing....more
Jemisin is so good, and these are so addictive, that there were days where I had to force myself not to start reading because otherwise I would not geJemisin is so good, and these are so addictive, that there were days where I had to force myself not to start reading because otherwise I would not get anything done. I read a lot, and it's become rare for me to have that feeling of getting lost in a book, so it's no small praise to say these got me happily lost for hours at a time.
Jemisin's style is deceptively simple, the kind of easy to read that is hard as heck to write. Her world-building is perfectly calibrated, there are no glaring info-dumps, and it's diverse too which helps it feel even more real. Her characters feel true to themselves and the dialogue sparkles.
So far, so mechanical. What about the stories themselves? This is not your granddaddy's fantasy. Yes, there are gods and mortals, battles political and personal, but morality is a swathe of grey rather than super-awesome-good or black-hat-and-cackles evil.
There is romance and sorrow, wit and whimsy (I will never not be amused by "Shiny"), and plots that seldom lead where you expect.
This is a giant book containing three novels and a novella, and I naively thought it'd keep me busy until her next book in August. Not a chance. I breezed through it.
I guess I'll get started on the Dreamblood books next. ...more
There's a tendency, when reading a trilogy, to expect less of the second book. Oftentimes this is because the "middle" book suffers in comparison to tThere's a tendency, when reading a trilogy, to expect less of the second book. Oftentimes this is because the "middle" book suffers in comparison to the first and third, because it is less eventful, because it is laying ground, because it does not have its own impetus, because it exists merely to get us from a to c... these "middle" books feel workmanlike and are ultimately unsatisfying.
NK Jemisin avoided this wonderfully in her Inheritance Trilogy with The Broken Gods. It seemed impossible that she could do it again, but she has.
With The Obelisk Gate, she's even surpassed herself.
Without spoilers, the momentum in this book is one of emotion. There are parts of it that are utterly devastating, even though the telling of them is subtle. It's as if the narrator doesn't want to lay things bare and so talks around horrors, hints at them, confirms them in passing. And there are horrors aplenty in this book. I had to put it down a few times while reading, distract myself and circle back to the page, each time a little more wary.
Not least because so much of it is recognizable, so many of the attitudes are ones that we see and hear every day. We may not be orogenes, but we may be "different", and aspects of this Earth and its people are sadly no different from our own. I said no spoilers, so no more about that.
Jemisin does not truck in Mary Sues or Gary Stus, her characters are flawed, imperfect, meaning well even while "rusting up". Their actions reverberate, their intentions are misread, their mistakes and their assumptions come back to bite them.
And yet...there is hope. There is a measure of justice, there is a sense of empowerment, there is loyalty and many kinds of love and even (because this is NK Jemisin, after all) moments of bright humor.
This "middle book" is a complete package, even as it makes the wait for the final book harder.
Why did I read it so quickly?
Because I couldn't stop, dang it.
On a side-note, if I were a rich girl, I would be buying up the rights to the Broken Earth trilogy, because with the expansion of worldbuilding in this book it's become even easier to see this as the basis for a supremely immersive and ass-kicking RPG. But I'm not rich, so I hope someone with deep pockets and an awesome creative team snaps it up and does it justice. ...more
The best way I can describe this is as a sort of gender-switched, updated, Confederacy of Dunces.
It's offbeat, screamingly funny, and manages to be sThe best way I can describe this is as a sort of gender-switched, updated, Confederacy of Dunces.
It's offbeat, screamingly funny, and manages to be surreal while staying true at heart. A big heart beating unsteadily under the weirdness that lives in everyone.
We may not all be Cheryl (thankfully), but that doesn't make her journey any less fun (or excruciating, or affecting). I'm a total cynic, but I loved the heck out of this book. A weird, writhing, little treasure....more
I'm not the kind of person who highlights passages in books, and it's a rare thing for me to take time after finishing a book to rummage back throughI'm not the kind of person who highlights passages in books, and it's a rare thing for me to take time after finishing a book to rummage back through the pages, mining for diamond-sharp sentences to be transcribed and kept. I did that here. Not for the opening lines, though they are wonderful and hooky and all of that good stuff, but for a sentence that tells you all you need to know about Eva, concisely and parenthetically. And another couple that muse on life and death, love and memory, and a wet hat that drips with import. There were many more, but these were my favorites.
Bloom tells her tale in scenes, moving through decades. Happenings are punctuated by letters from absent characters. It's lean, economical storytelling, and didn't feel at all fractured to me.
I was drawn in from the off and didn't lose interest at all along the way. Her characters are somewhat opaque, in the way that real people can be, and more than once I found myself tearing up, amazed that such seemingly cool prose could provoke such emotion.
There is no black and white in this book, no plucky heroine, no gleaming prince on a white horse. Instead, there are people, and the things they do, or fail to do, and a family that somehow chooses itself and makes itself out of whole cloth. And yes, it is riveting and sad and funny and affecting and gorgeously written. It's not the kind of book you'll read and forget, and I'll happily carry it around in my head for some time.