Book Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin, Part II

Title: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Publisher: Orbit
Year: 2010
Grade: A

And now for the hard part: talking about the actual story. My final note before beginning my actual review is to say that I found out someone in my family had received a serious diagnosis only a few hours after finishing the book, so some of my memory has been obscured and clouded. However, with the book at my elbow as I right this, I think I can still write a tolerable review.

It is somewhat difficult to write about this book without being spoilery. I will do my very best, and will try to warn for major spoilers if they become inevitable.

Things I liked about this book:

1.) The love story. For some reason, I had not expected there to be a love story at all, and the one that transpires is surprising for everyone, the reader included. I found this aspect of the story to be particularly interesting as someone who has come quite recently to be interested in the romance genre, and who has become a semi-regular reader of Smart Bitches. I may write a much more spoilery post sometime in the future considering some of the ways in which the love story interacts with romance conventions and ideas. For the present, suffice it to say that I found the romance to be really indulgently fun, and I thought the associated sex scenes were well written, which is not a given in the genre.

2.) Sieh. Omg, Sieh. (Mild spoilers) I have a soft spot in my heart for Trickster stories anyway, but I think Sieh is currently my favorite. There is something so right about the trickster god being a child, and Jemisin does a kick-ass job of exploring what being a child-god would mean. I started reading her blog right about the time she was planning for her Sieh-themed party, and I am retroactively so sad I couldn’t be there. He is probably my favorite character. Continue reading

Book Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin, Part I

Title: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Publisher: Orbit
Year: 2010
Grade: A

Having had over a year to think about this blog entry, I’ve decided to take it down. I had my doubts about its worth when I put it up, and those have only strengthened with time. I now think the entry that once occupied this space probably most clearly communicated that it is a bad idea to discuss things you don’t know much about, particularly when your own thoughts on them haven’t solidified and extra particularly when it is only a week after you’ve learned a parent is seriously ill. (Everyone is thankfully recovered now.) I should not have been blogging when I was so upset, and indeed, I was such a wreck after posting this blog that my husband suggested I take a break from the internet, which was probably some of the best advice he could have given me (thanks, hon!).

Part of my reason for posting had originally been to improve the book’s search rank, which I seem to remember the author had been requesting at about that time. So I’ll say here that N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is an engaging read with an interesting mix of sudsy fun and really dark social commentary and I would probably have enjoyed it more if circumstances were different. For a more in-depth review of my reactions after reading, see Part II of this review.

I am comfortable with removing this review in part because I am fairly certain that only bots read this site, so I am not removing some vital part of an ongoing debate. However, since I know the book’s author has Google Alert, it is possible that she has read it. If she has any questions or concerns, she can reach me on Twitter, where my handle is wordsmith85.



Comfort Re-read: Od Magic by Patricia McKillip

Now that my mind is not constantly taken up with the job search or the many discomforts of my old job, I finally feel I have time to read again. I’ve been reading a new book on the bus to and from work, but the changes of starting a new job have made me long for the comfort of a favorite re-read as well. After casting about for a while, I finally decided on Od Magic, one of my favorite McKillip books, and the only book of hers so far to have a quote get copied into my quote book:

Sorrow was like sleeping on stones, he decided. You had to settle all its bumps and sharp edges, come to terms against them, shift them around until they became bearable, and then carry your bed wherever you went.

Lest that make the book sound too bleak, I’ll just say it also includes a gardener who doesn’t know his own power, a wizard who begins to worry that he has failed to live up to the talents that first brought him notice, a frustrated and adventurous princess, a good cop, and a performing magician who might be practicing illegal magic or might just be skilled at illusion–who can say? And many more, including Od herself.

Here is one character’s first glimpse of the magician’s daughter:

       A swirl of color caught his eye. A woman rode past him, and he stopped. She seemed surrounded by coils of light, his confused eyes told him. Then he amended that to streams of finest silk, flowing from her wrists and hair and ankles, held by various figures in voluminous skirts who spun, now and then, forming circles as round as the moon with their skirts, as the streamers of silk in their hands fashioned their own dance around the rider.
She turned a little in her saddle to look back at Yar. Her exquisite face seemed real and unreal at once: a porcelain mask, or skin so pale she might have been kin to the moon. Her eyes caught torchlight, blazed a warm, lucent amber, then faded dark as eyeholes in a mask. Her hair, a long, rippling flow behind her, seemed to have caught the jugglers’ stars in it like a great, dark net.
What are you? he thought amazedly.
She turned her face away from him at the question. He stood there watching the swirls of light and shadow weaving around her until she passed in the shadow of the gate and he could move again.

The Weekend Happy: Mark Reads

Somewhat in honor of the fact that Friday/Saturday represent my last regularly-scheduled two-day weekend until June, I’ve spent most of the last two days on the computer, doing nothing. Or really, doing things that made me happy but did essentially nothing to better my lot in life in any way. And, since they made me happy, I thought I’d share!

First off, a quick plug for the totally awesome blog/ger Mark Reads. I first heard of him because someone on Twitter (I think cleolinda, who is awesome in her own right) linked to his current read-through, which is LOTR. If, like me, you are a nerdy nerd who cannot resist any read-through of Tolkien, then I highly recommend you give it a look. He’s only recently started The Fellowship of the Ring, so there’s not too much to catch up on. (I am pleased, though, that he has already read [SPOILERS AT LINK] The Bridge of Khazad-Dûm, as that is probably one of my favorite chapters in all of literature.)

However, since there CLEARLY WAS NOT ENOUGH LOTR yet, but I was enjoying Mark’s reactions (in part because they’re so similar to mine, yeah yeah yeah narcissism GO BOIL YER HEADS) I decided to read pretty much his entire read-through of the whole Harry Potter series. That took me most of yesterday evening and all of today. (And no, I didn’t read every entry, but I definitely read the vast majority.) This ended up being a really interesting exercise, in part because Mark apparently started the HP read-through immediately after finishing one of the Twilight series, and his resulting hatred of all things everywhere is really apparent in his first few Sorcerer’s Stone reviews. (Don’t have links for the Twilight reviews, sorry, GO FIND YOUR OWN.) (Some of Mark’s exuberant writing style may have rubbed off on me, but I’m rolling with it. After all, spending all day reading CAPSLOCK PARTIES and omgomg KEYBOARD SMASHslskfhaoihakdklsd has got to have some sort of effect on a person.)

But as I was saying, it was interesting to watch Mark’s progression from “exaggerated kidzbook lol” to “HAGRID LOVE” and on through to “OMG WHY DO I CARE ABOUT THIS SO MUCH PLEASE BE OK PLEASE BE OK AUUUUGHHHH.” It really drove home the point that I’ve been increasingly embarrassed to defend: J.K. Rowling may have faults as a writer, but she writes a damn good story. Over the past few years, I’ve somehow stumbled into a portion of the internet that tolerates Harry Potter while at the same time feeling the need to point out that the world-building sucks and the writing sucks and the themes suck and I hope to god you grow out of this damn story because I can’t really stand its immaturity. Which has actually been really depressing. I mean, I’ve always known there were weaknesses in Rowling’s writing, particularly after Book 3. That Triwizard Tournament drags on and on and ON. Along about the time Harry’s trying to figure out the egg, I got really bored. And when he’s angsty in Order of the Phoenix, I wanted to shake him until his teeth rattled, though that may have been because I was still an angsty teenager myself at the time. And Half-Blood Prince is episodic and is basically just exposition for Deathly Hallows, which has long boring sections that are just camping (though I actually think the boredom of the camping sections is brilliant and necessary but that’s a separate rant which would probably lead me to spoilery discourses on LOTR as well). And as much as I hate Umbridge with white-hot hatred (well done, Rowling), I found her encounter with the centaurs to be problematic right from the get-go.

What I’m trying to say is that yes, there are problems, of course there are. The books could probably have used a bit more editing, though when you have a project with the incredible scope of this series, it’s not unusual for it to kind of get away from people. But the story, for all its flaws, is still powerful, it still tries to deal with hard, dark issues from a place of honesty and compassion, and when it’s at its best, it succeeds. And it was so wonderful, so incredibly affirming of everything that I love about reading and about fantasy and about Harry Potter, to watch Mark fall under Rowling’s spell. And, as a writer myself, it gave me hope that even when I fuck shit up and make people mad and write in subtext that I don’t mean but is there anyway and get overwhelmed with my project and struggle through anyway, I can still, somehow, create something that will do some people good.

And, as I stare down the barrel of a really, really unpleasant-looking next couple months (barring some change), a little hope that we can create things that will do each other good is not such a bad thing. Thank you, Mark Oshiro.

Innocenti’s A Christmas Carol

Ever since I first read the book as a teenager, I have tried to make Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol an Advent tradition. As I get older and busier, the tradition has grown harder and harder to keep, but I still make an effort every year. (Last year, I think I sadly only made it about as far as the appearance of Marley’s ghost.) If you have not read the book, and are only familiar with it through its many (usually sentimental) film adaptations, then I highly recommend that you join me this year and give the book a read. (Though if you *do* watch a movie version, I’m a big fan of the Muppet version, as you may have guessed by now.)

This year, the read-through has felt almost painfully apropos. Though I haven’t gotten to this passage in my read-through yet, my mind keeps going to the following exchange between Scrooge and Marley’s Ghost:

“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faultered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again, “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

If the Ghost’s reply has not ended up on a placard at some Occupy demonstration somewhere, then I will be very, very sad.

Interestingly, my tradition of reading A Christmas Carol has also been a tradition of reading a certain edition of the book: A Harcourt and Brace Creative Edition illustrated by Roberto Innocenti. When I first checked the book out of the library as a teenager, that was the only edition that was on the shelf, and I ended up so taken with it, that I sought out that copy every year following. Finally, my parents, recognizing a trend, bought me a copy from a second-hand bookstore one year for Christmas. It can still be got for a very reasonable price from Abe Books.

The illustrations are simply stunning. I’m trying to only show partial or distant pictures in this blog entry, since it’s so easy for an illustrator’s work to get spread around, unattributed, on the internet. But even the small detail (right) from one of my favorite illos (Scrooge following the ghost hearse up the stairs) gives you some idea of the level of detail in these paintings. Look at the chipped plaster under his hand. See how the shape of his pocket flap is distorted by the torque of his body. If the image were a bit sharper, you’d be able to see imperfections on the worn stone stairs. Further down this page, there is a detail from another of my favorites, Christmas morning as experienced by Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present. At least three micro-stories are demonstrated even in that tiny section of the picture: the passers-by who have had snow shoveled onto their heads, the invalid looking out the attic window, and the elderly woman who appears to be selling old shoes. These are illustrations of incredible detail and beauty. It’s not surprising to me that Innocenti is a children’s illustrator: these images are the sort that can entrance a child for hours. As a twenty-six-year-old, I wouldn’t exactly call myself immune, either. And with one two-page spread per chapter, plus a generous helping of full-page illustrations, there are plenty of them to be had. Continue reading

Book Review: Majestrum by Matthew Hughes

Title: Majestrum: A Tale of Henghis Hapthorn
Author: Matthew Hughes
Publisher: Nightshade Books
Date: 2007
Grade: B+

I first heard about the Henghis Hapthorn series when the second book, Spiral Labyrinth, came across my desk at work. I thought the premise sounded fascinating, so I tracked down a copy of the first book, Majestrum, which I review here.

In the Henghis Hapthorn books, the universe is shifting away from an era that can be explained by science and rational deduction to one that can only be grasped and influenced by intuition and magic. As a medieval-era nerd, I was instantly fascinated by this premise, since it would obviously indicate that the middle ages were another magical age, with the reverse shift taking place during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Henghis Hapthorn is specifically important because he has been accidentally introduced to this new magical age early. Hapthorn, at the beginning of the first book, is a well-known “discriminator,” (basically a private investigator) on far-future Earth. However, just before the start of the book, he had been kidnapped and held captive by a wizard who was using a pocket of magic that had seeped through from the coming age. Hapthorn was rescued, but this rescue involved interdimensional travel that partially converted him into who he would become once the cosmic shift to magic took place. Thus, the artificial intelligence (basically a very advanced PC) that helps him in his investigative work has become a monkey-like familiar, and Hapthorn himself is split into two personalities: himself, the rigorously logical PI; and the self he is meant to become, the intuitive wizard.

In Majestrum, Hapthorn has only very recently returned from his kidnapping, and is in the process of trying to find a way to organize his mind to accept and live with his suddenly fruit-loving computer and his emotional, intuitive other self. Before long, he is engaged in two successive cases commissioned by two high-ranking members of his society. These cases appear to be very different, but odd connections begin weaving them together in ways that both Hapthorn and the reader have difficulty grasping, until at last all is revealed in the end. The first case has a very classical fedora-wearing-PI-beat-pounding premise, while the second begins to veer into recognizably fantasy-esque territory. It’s difficult to get more specific than that without being too spoilery, but I can still share a few additional thoughts below.

Continue reading