Friday, September 16, 2016

N.K. Jemisin

So, given that N.K. Jemisin is the hot new thing in recent years, I decided to give her another chance. I read the first book of her Inheritance trilogy, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and wasn't greatly impressed. It started off new and terrifying, a young woman meeting a god -- and who can trust a god when that god explains about the beginnings of time and reality? But then the novel turned into a straight political narrative involving humans and gods. The gods, who initially seemed terrifying, ended up having motivations and grudges and clear comprehensible motives just like everyone else, and I never bothered to finish the trilogy.

However, I can't say the same about The Fifth Season, the first book in Jemisin's The Broken Earth series. This is book f-a-n-t-a-s-t-i-c. The quality leaps right off the page from the very beginning, which is refreshing since the last few series I've tried and quit had quite pedestrian prose -- workmanlike, usually clear, but somewhat plodding. Her created world is strange and new, something I've seen much more often from science fiction than fantasy. (In fact, although she explicitly calls her novel a fantasy, it could just as easily be called sf and no one would truly know.)

While I'm on the topic of fantasy lit, though, I do feel somewhat guilty for being so bored by Aliette de Bodard's fantasy-mystery book. I called it "relentlessly mediocre" even though I praised its historical research. I should clarify that I meant her prose and her ability to write scenes. With the prose, I kept wanting to cross out (using a red pen) sentence after sentence that was too expository or too "telling, not showing." The scenes tended to lack any emotional depth. But, in literary aesthetic terms, I was impressed by her plotting, which was both intelligent and talented. Servant of the Underworld is a book that would have looked phenomenal in its outline. It's the actual execution that falls short.

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