THE ALCHEMY OF STONE (2008)

download (1)There are a lot of layers to this story enabled by the nature of the protagonist. A mechanical girl – an emancipated automaton – whose freedom is “allowed” by a man of wealth and power. Her point of view, the mechanical girl’s, allows for a unique, in many ways un-biased, view of a class-based power struggle. At times the writing is noticeably detached from the events that would typically be the focal point of a comparable narrative: the assassination of a figurehead, mass destruction of the city, lives destroyed, and homes burnt to the ground. But this is the nature of the eyes we’re given to look through as the reader. It was an interesting and enjoyable way to experience this narrative, and opened up a lot of opportunities for social commentary. The over-arching issues were that of power and freedom, and Sedia wove these in with issues of gender, race, slavery, and technology (as they are woven in reality). As a result, The Alchemy of Stone is overflowing with perceptive and thoughtful quotes on social justice issues. I am always drawn to well-written thematic sentences and one that stood out was:

“Or perhaps you just think someone who doesn’t want to be your slave is aiming to be your master.”

The end of the story is unusual, which I was more surprised by than I should have been considering how unusual the entire narrative is. Either way, it caught me off guard in its abruptness and lack of satisfying closure. I’ll need more distance before settling on what I think of the ending, but I think I liked it, and if pressed, I’d guess that I’ll become more fond of the ending over time. If nothing else, the conclusion is thought-provoking and just the right amount of troubling. The Alchemy of Stone is unlike anything I’ve ever read, and that is always a good thing.

Links: Ekaterina Sedia .com | Goodreads | Amazon

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THE STONE SKY (2017)

downloadUpon finishing the The Stone Sky, the first thing I did was return to my review of The Fifth Season to refresh myself on why I was confused about my own thoughts on it. I was confused because I enjoyed reading it, couldn’t put it down, loved the characters, loved the writing, had no complaints whatsoever, but despite all of that, did not feel consumed by it. I even said that I didn’t think it would stick with me in a long-term way like all my favorite books do. I struggled to express this well the first time, and I’m not sure I’ve done a much better job now, but I bring it up again for this reason: The Stone Sky consumed me. Or more specifically, the last three chapters did.

One thing I repeatedly noticed as I read this trilogy is how I was reading faster than my brain could keep up with. There are many sections in the book that get almost technical in their description and explanation of the geological events that are occurring, and I would fly through all of it whether I fully comprehended what I was reading or not. I don’t think it’s inherently bad to read in this way, it’s the way I tend to read a lot of page-turning fiction, but it is definitely a shallower, surface-level method of reading. The point of explaining this, however, is to emphasize that the moment I started the third to last chapter of The Stone Sky, I was suddenly reading slowly…one sentence at a time…one word at a time. I had been racing through this crazy chaotic emotional turmoil of a trilogy, and then the last 60 pages hit me so hard that I stopped in my tracks and had to slow down and take in every single word. There are many great novels that don’t need their endings or don’t truly have one, and their effectiveness is found in the telling or in the small moments or in the overarching message. The Broken Earth trilogy, in contrast, is made complete by its ending. The ending is the heart of the story, and I wasn’t able to fully love the story until I reached it.

There’s so much about The Stone Sky and the entire Broken Earth Trilogy as a whole that is remarkable. One of the most notable is something I also talked about after reading The Fifth Season, which is that it forces you to see the injustices of your own reality more clearly by making you look into another’s as an outsider. It’s been a troubling year to say the least, and The Stone Sky throws punch after punch of reminders that our country and our leaders are going the wrong direction. Making the wrong choices. Choosing the wrong priorities. Jemisin shows us how much worse-off the world can become if we continue to follow this path, while also showing us that it is never too late to change course. And this is what the ending encapsulates in a remarkable 60 pages. It’s tragic, gripping, emotional, realistic, but ultimately so full of hope. Heart-wrenchingly full of hope. How often does that happen? How often do we get to be crushed and then uplifted by a realistic conclusion? It’s a rare thing and it’s the difference between loving a book and being consumed by it.

Links: N K Jemisin .com | Goodreads | Amazon

THE OBELISK GATE (2016)

theobeliskgateAs promised, I’ve returned fairly quickly to read the second book in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy: The Obelisk Gate. As sequels go, it was perfect. It takes the narrative in new directions, but also connects back to and addresses some of the lingering questions from the previous book, The Fifth Season. I’m finding myself struggling for things to say about it beyond what I already wrote about for The Fifth Season because I have very similar thoughts on it. I considered skipping this post entirely as redundant, but decided it was worth noting that this  trilogy continues to be excellent, and if you’re a fan of world-building fantasy, this is a series you shouldn’t miss.

Links: N K Jemisin .com | Goodreads | Amazon

You’ll like this book if you like: Fantasy, Strong-female leads, innovative world-building, themes of human/environment interaction

THE FIFTH SEASON (2015)

download“To all those who have to fight for the respect that everyone else is given without question.”

This is the dedication provided by the author, N.K. Jemisin, at the beginning of The Fifth Season. Now pause, and read it again. . . This dedication set the tone for my entire experience reading this novel. Every page, it was there in the back of my mind. The Fifth Season does what all great works of fiction do. By pulling you into a fictional universe in which you are an outsider, it allows for a fresh perspective, and forces you to see your own reality more clearly. I dare you to try to read this book and come out the other side thinking that human beings have the right to abuse and take advantage of the environment the way we do, or thinking that the earth cares whether or not it’s habitable for any given species.

Now I want to be honest in that as much as I loved and will continue to rave about The Fifth Season, I didn’t find it perfect. However, I do not want to undersell this book because it doesn’t deserve that (also it won a Hugo so it doesn’t really matter what I think anyway). It’s unique, impressive, and gripping. The writing is excellent, the depth of the narrative is astounding (I’m always amazed by world-building and the history and depth to to the world of The Fifth Season is incredible), and the ways race, gender, and human/environment interaction is explored is fascinating and eye-opening. I was engrossed the whole time. I began this book with the intention of only reading a chapter or two, which of course did not end up happening (I should know myself better), and instead finished it 6 hours later without taking a single break. Maybe it’s just that it’s been awhile since I’ve read a good epic fantasy, but I was continually struck by how unique The Fifth Element was in so many ways in a genre that, in my experience, can sometimes suffer from repetitiveness in its themes and story arcs. A lot of it felt new, and I wouldn’t hesitate to partially attribute that freshness to the author being a black woman. Why should we be surprised that a genre historically dominated by white men can sometimes begin to feel stale? (P.S. do NOT think there isn’t precedent for remarkable black female authors of fantasy or sci-fi)

With all that said, I don’t see this book lingering with me in a long-term, powerful way the way my favorite books do. There’s no concrete reason I can give for why I found The Fifth Season less than perfect. The fact is, personal taste varies, and The Fifth Season simply didn’t resonate quite as deeply with me as some other fantasy novels I’ve read. That doesn’t mean this would be the case for anyone else. I plan to read the 2nd book in the trilogy ASAP and will be anxiously awaiting the third. If you’re a lover of fantasy novels, I wouldn’t miss this one for the world.

Links: N K Jemisin .com | Goodreads | Amazon

You’ll like this book if you like: Fantasy, Strong female protagonists, R-rated content, LGBTQ content, human/environment interaction themes