This book, this author was so exciting for me. I love fantasy. But you know what, it gets really old to never see myself in those worlds. Why is it thThis book, this author was so exciting for me. I love fantasy. But you know what, it gets really old to never see myself in those worlds. Why is it that for the vast majority of fantasy writers, the populace is homogeneously white as that is understood in our real world? The only time characters of color make an appearance, it is as the barbarians of the south that have allied themselves with the hobgoblins and come riding in with their war drums and guttural non-languages to be slain namelessly by our heroes? Why is a genre that is ostensibly about testing the limits of imagination so very, very tired?
Guess what? Jemisin isn't tired. This is the most original piece of fantasy that I have read in years. Recently got halfway through Game of Thrones. He threw in some curse words, killed some kids, and raped some women, and people praised Martin for being original. Well, excuse me if I don't join in the slow clap. This story here is original. Not only has Jemisin created a whole new WORLD (not one little kingdom), but she's also given us a story that doesn't fit that usual quest narrative, either.
About that world. We know it's populated by diverse and varied peoples and cultures, but we only see great insight into two of them. But the acknowledgment and glimpses of the others is so much more real feeling than I've encountered recently. Impressively, Jemisin limits herself in the use of the infodumps. Yeah, they're there. But this is world building. You build a (detailed, rich, interesting) world (and get somebody other than yourself to understand it) without one, single infodump.
The Darre. They are not the focus of the book, much of the book has nothing to do with them. But they are the culture that our outcast protagonist comes from, and through her, we learn about them. Why do they blow my mind? Because mainstream, established, popular authors don't write about this stuff. They shouldn't blow my mind. I should say, "oh, that's neat," and keep it moving. But, come on. That's not the world, and unfortunately this is near revolutionary stuff. They are a matriarchal warrior society, full fleshed. They'd kick the amazon's asses. They raise their women to fight and rule. Their most valued asset is their men, for their ability to provide and provide for their future, their children. They don't blink an eye same sex relationships. Not everything is "good." The adulthood initiation ritual will make you shiver. But it makes sense and it fits. At one point a character angrily greets our protagonist by saying "you're that Darre bitch." Her response? "One of many." Yeee-haw!
So, what? I'm four paragraphs in and haven't even hit the "story." Yeah, there's plenty there to dissect, too. You like castles and intrigue? We've got crown politics aplenty. The castle itself is like another world that we get glimpses into. Magic is ever present but not focus-pulling, and that's most clearly seen in the running of the castle. There are little details here that are little treasures to ponder over.
But what is most interesting is the tale of the gods, and how they are superimposed on to everything else that goes on. I'm not saying the concept of gods on earth has never been explored before. But the particular way that Jemisin does it, feels fresh and keeps you involved. This book can be harrowing. Through this plotline, she explores all kinds of theme- fluidity of gender, lust v. love, death and life, the essential nature of humanity, and all those shades of gray. (Side note: be prepared to groan, roll your eyes, or do some heavy breathing at the romantic points. I suppose depending on your tolerance/affinity for such things. It is just a bit over the top, in my opinion.)
I cannot recommend this first novel enough. Please read it. Please support voices like this. Please help get the message out there, that we want to see diverse people, diverse topics, good writing and roaring good fun rewarded. READ THIS BOOK....more
All the prizes. All of em. Don't even know how many or their names or qualifications, but I always see these shortlists and winners lists and stuff. AAll the prizes. All of em. Don't even know how many or their names or qualifications, but I always see these shortlists and winners lists and stuff. And this book should have won EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. for 2013. So, I guess I need to read whatever books beat it for whatever prize there is. I cannot explain the impact of this book. So many feelings and emotions. And remarkably, while it deals with subjects of great pain and sadness, that's not an emotion the book leaves you with at all (not during the reading or after the reading). Even with an unresolved central mystery, and therefore the very real possibility that this is a tragedy, it is the humor, love, and redemption that life (and time) have to offer that stick the most. ...more
I fell in love with Seraphina, the novel and the character. If I were to tell you (assuming you having passing familiarity with fantasy and YA) that II fell in love with Seraphina, the novel and the character. If I were to tell you (assuming you having passing familiarity with fantasy and YA) that I was reading a book about a young girl in a medieval stand in world where dragons existed, you'd probably think that you knew a few things about the book without even reading it. You'd say that our hero is special, she is not like the other girls. She is uncommonly (though naturally) beautiful, and she's smart, and she has opinions that she's unafraid to voice and does so with no consequence in a delightful anachronistic twist to the proceedings. And depending whether the dragons are monsters or noble steeds, she will either be especially adept at vanquishing them, or uncommonly suited to be the next great rider. And of course there will be a handsome prince that she falls in love with after some adorable capers that initially put them at odds.
And yes, Seraphina hits SOME of these points. But it is also so much more. Seraphina is special, and different from those around her. But it's been a long time since I've so thoroughly understood how and why that is. Most of these novels say, "she was brave," "she was smart," etc. Seraphina shows us a young girl using her head, being obstinate, and making a name for herself. At one point, she overhears other girls gossiping about her in not the most flattering terms. She later looks at herself introspectively and wonders if they weren't right in some regards. And we do clearly see her flaws and her realness. But she's no antihero. She's a young woman who is shouldering her burden, and doing the best she can for herself, her family, and even her country. I think of the girls reading this book, and I can't help but think that Seraphina is a thoroughly positive, yet realistic and attainable, role model.
The dragons are similarly inventive. They are fully realized beings, with full lives and agency, and a unique view of their "magical powers," that I won't give away because I think its important to realize it all yourself.
And yes, there is the love interest. But this is no, he rode up on a white horse and save me from the monster and now we are in lurrve, narrative. Her love interest comes naturally. They grow to like each other, they share humor, they value each other's intellects, they work together. Again, refreshing. Even the obstacles thrown in their way (yeah, there have to be obstacles) are dealt with with restraint, and really cause the reader to feel pain and indecision along with Seraphina.
Now some of the surprises were easily figured out, while the bigger ones were well plotted and crafty. This book filled you with that conundrum the best books do: I want to gobble it up and read more and more, but then it will be done, and whatever will I do at the end? This is clearly the beginning of a series, and I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment. Curses, another series has sucked me in at the beginning. ::shakes fist to the sky::...more
This was an enchanting novel, and I am astounded that it is a debut effort. It presented a kaleidoscope of experiences, each one ringing true and striThis was an enchanting novel, and I am astounded that it is a debut effort. It presented a kaleidoscope of experiences, each one ringing true and striking a different emotional color. What was real was the frustration you felt at the characters' shortcomings and the relief you felt at their triumphs. Remarkably, Yunis avoided the saccharine sweet and trite confections of happy endings that I was afraid was coming, but instead gave us something that felt both real (well, maybe a bit stretched for entertainment's sake) and wholesome. This novel left laughing at times, and sitting in contemplative quiet of the gentle ache evoked by the scenes of still tragedy. I can't wait for Yunis to write again....more
No book is perfect, but I think this one comes close. I hate to start a review with negatives, but it will probably be easiest that way. Aminata DiallNo book is perfect, but I think this one comes close. I hate to start a review with negatives, but it will probably be easiest that way. Aminata Diallo is exceptional, and so is her story. That's the only thing that nagged about the story. Was she too exceptional? Were some of the circumstances just too unbelievable in terms of miraculous good timing and good connections and just plain historically? More uncomfortably, why was it that Aminata's keen mind was always referred to with such incredulity? Why was the spark of intelligence in her eyes so uncommon as to get her different treatment? I can remember only once that a white man in the book does wonder out loud that perhaps with opportunity the other Africans could be just as intelligent as Aminata. It's simply a point that I would have like to have seen more forcefully made.
The thing is, though, Aminata was stolen at age 11 and lived a very long life. It should not need to be said, but slavery was a brutal and vicious system of human oppression. In order for anyone to survive that, it would require exceptional circumstances. Every one who did survive that was uncommon in some way. The sheer numbers of lives extinguished boggles the mind and somehow, it is miraculous that there were not more. So, I am grateful to go Mr. Hill for writing of this particular set of uncommon circumstances in order to illuminate these pivotal but not well known moments of history.
Aminata is the readers's guide through history. She shows us the trek to the coast of Africa, the middle passage, an indigo plantation on South Carolina's Gullah Islands, slavery in the city of Charlestown, the Revolutionary War as experienced by slaves, race relations in Nova Scotia, ex/re-patriotism to Sierra Leone, and the fight for abolition in London. Through all of this, we are shown the pain, love, and even humor of a human life lived in bondage and freedom. Her tragedies become ours and her victories feel sweet.
As suspenseful, tragic, and painful as many of these events were, you don't want to put the book down and abandon Aminata. Her spirit of triumph and courage propel her to freedom and propel us through these pages.
At one point, Aminata muses that while she thought her migrations were extraordinary, the other former slaves she meets while helping with The Book of Negroes have traveled just as far and wide. That was what is so precious about this novel. Yes, she is fiction, but Aminata represents giving a voice to all those people who did live at least parts of her journey. She is a constant reminder to us not to forget the exceptional people who were the victims of slavery. And to always honor our ancestors who survive through us....more
This book brought me back to reading after going through years in school where extra curricular books were not an option. I remember being utterly traThis book brought me back to reading after going through years in school where extra curricular books were not an option. I remember being utterly transported and engrossed. The writing is so lovely, yet dark. It was at turns frightening and others exhilarating. This was a great example of how a writer can write about sad things without depressing the reader, while still allowing us to feel so deeply for the characters we are getting to know....more
My all time favorite children's book. It is a picture book with no words, so suitable for a range of ages. My 2 year old loves it, and this is a copyMy all time favorite children's book. It is a picture book with no words, so suitable for a range of ages. My 2 year old loves it, and this is a copy that was given to me when I was 11 years old, (I can tell from the inscription in which my godmother instructs me to keep the tradition alive). The story is never exactly the same from one retelling to the next, and there are always new details to pick up on, so it remains fresh and fun after years of reading. Everyone becomes a beloved character, even the strawberry snatcher. And it takes great wit and talent to make us care equally about the old grey lady who is trying to make it home with her farmer's market jewels, and the funny looking blue man who leaves toadstools in his footsteps and wants desperately to lay his hands on those berries. As I think about the book, it should be frightening. blue men, chases, swamps, disappearing forests, flying eels??? But it is whimsical and fun, a non-stop adventure, and a chance for little imaginations to take flight....more
Cute little Corduroy sneaks his way into our hearts, even without that missing button. The message of searching for belonging, and finally finding thaCute little Corduroy sneaks his way into our hearts, even without that missing button. The message of searching for belonging, and finally finding that no matter how humble, friends and homes are better than any castle, is great to impart to little minds. It was also invaluable to me that our little heroine, kind and friendly Lisa, was a reflection of myself....more
Just excellent. So much going on. My food poisoned self stayed up until the wee hours to finish it. I will try to write a review that does it justiceJust excellent. So much going on. My food poisoned self stayed up until the wee hours to finish it. I will try to write a review that does it justice when I'm a bit more coherent. ...more
Love these. Wish they didn't go so quickly. I really appreciate the narration by future Hazel. It tames some of my anxiety about her safety. As long aLove these. Wish they didn't go so quickly. I really appreciate the narration by future Hazel. It tames some of my anxiety about her safety. As long as they don't pull a River Song, we'll be alright. ...more
anyone who thinks fantasy is a childish genre of no import has never read Gaiman. in less than 200 pages, he's spun a deeply meditative tale of childhanyone who thinks fantasy is a childish genre of no import has never read Gaiman. in less than 200 pages, he's spun a deeply meditative tale of childhood and the struggles of finding your place in the world. the spare genius is staggering and I think this may be my favorite read of the year....more