Tuesday, February 1, 2011

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

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (The Inheritance Trilogy, #1)The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love a good fantasy yarn about the rise and fall of the gods.

I love a strong female lead.

I love a story with ethnic diversity.

I love a story where all the above are done well.

Really, that right there would sum up my review of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. In the book, the author interweaves political intrigues, family discord, religious hysteria, and sexuality in what becomes a sort of coming of age story for Yeine, our heroine.

Or perhaps a more accurate description would be to say that she finally comes into herself.

In the novel, there are the usual intrigues of the fantasy genre - royal siblings making a play for power, mischievous gods, and a wealth of lands & territories to keep track of.

But all of that is done so well.

In brief, we have Yeine, the ruler of once proud and powerful land that is subject to the kingdom of Sky. Yeine herself is the offspring of a Darr father (from the land in which she rules), and a Arameri mother. The story begins with her receiving a summons to the city of Sky to see her aging grandfather, the ruler of hundred thousand kingdoms. From there, the political intrigues begin as she is thrust into a struggle between her two cousins for the throne. Along the way, her life becomes intermingled with that of the captive 'gods' chained to the Arameri and forced to serve them by the Bright Lord Itempas, one of their ranks who overthrew his siblings and cast them down to this life of servitude.

Yeine learns of the battles between the gods, their tortured relationships, and the extent to which they are willing to go in order to gain their freedom.

The focal point of the god stories told in this book is Nahadoth, the dark lord and father of the other gods imprisoned in the palace. Yeine is both frightened by the depth of the darkness which he embodies, and fascinated by him. It is their stories which help to shape the book, and ultimately lead to the turn of events in the climax.

The best thing that I can say about this book is that it was so engaging that upon finshing it, I immediately checked my local bookstores to see if the second book of the Inheritance trilogy was available, bought it the next day, and read it in one sitting.

I enjoyed Jemisin's style of writing (which only gets better in The Broken Kingdoms), and I enjoyed the worlds that she built with the Arameri, the gods, and their subjects. I thought the author was able to strike a good balance between Yeine's search for the truth, her own personal journey, and the epic stories of the gods.

Definitely worth a read.

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Book Review: The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt

The Court of the Air***Spoilers Ahead!***

The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

What I believed I was going to be reading, and what I actually read are two completely different things.

That is the best way that I can think of to describe "The Court of the Air," by Stephen Hunt.

The story is about...oh goodness. What is it about? You'd think, based on the title and the book's blurb, that it's about or intrinsically related to this mysterious Court of the Air. I certainly thought that. And I kept holding on to that belief, page after page, as characters were abandoned, plot lines dead-ended, and the Court of the Air itself disappeared from mention.

What is this story really about?

The attempted rise of old gods in a Victorian-type society.

THAT's what the book is really about. But you'll get plenty of confusing plots and unnecessary characters along with a lack of insight or explanation as you come to this conclusion.

The story starts out with the character of Molly Templar, who for all intents and purposes looks to be the books protagonist. Shortly thereafter, we're introduced to Oliver Brooks. And the more we get into Oliver, the more that Molly seems to become an afterthought in the story. It almost felt as if the author decided that he didn't like her character enough to really infuse her into the narrative, but he still needed her to get to his ending.

Because of this, the book felt disjointed. What was a more science-fiction type story became fantasy, what I thought the plot to be was summarily kicked to the side. A villain is introduced, but we're given some very shoddy reasons as to why this formerly good man turns his back on society and turns to such pure evil in the form of these old world gods for solace.

What was clear in reading this book, is that many of the elements which were included were actually just the author laying the groundwork for future stories which would take place in this steampunk-esque universe. Unfortunately, that means that you might possibly be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of details that you have to remember about the political goings on of the world.

As I read the book, I kept wanting the author to return to Molly's storyline, to expound upon why she was being pursued, and what made her so important. However, there wasn't as much of that as I would have liked since, as I mentioned earlier, the author seemed more interested in the backstory of Oliver Brooks. And while I certainly found his story to be interesting, it did not hold the same level of appeal to me that Molly's story did.

Without going into too much detail or including any additional spoilers, there was A LOT going on. In my opinion, too much. A lot of the extraneous stories could have been done away with. For example, the story of Prince Alpheus. It doesn't really go anywhere (unless it's supposed to go somewhere in subsequent novels). I feel like the entire storyline featuring him, Captain Flare and The Special Guard would have been better served as the focal point of another book. In this one, it just feels like an afterthought.

Also, for no reason that I can comprehend, the book gets quite gory. In the span of 500 odd pages, we go from the story about a court in the air presiding unseen over a Victorian-like civilization, to what appears to be two intertwined murder mysteries, to a story about human sacrifices to insect gods with names featuring more consonants than vowels- all very Mesoamerican.

The Court of the Air moves through so many stories so quickly, that you begin to feel as if they're disposable and there's no need to really focus on any of them. To me, it felt disjointed and unfocused. I would have preferred if the author would have taken one plot line and based the novel upon that, instead of writing a book that felt as if he took all the ideas jotted down in his Moleskine and tried to wedge them all into one story whether they fit or not.

This book felt like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole, and felt just about as frustrating as you read it.

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Book Review: Jasmyn by Alex Bell

(I haven't updated this blog in forever, but I've recently read several books that I enjoyed and wanted to post some reviews on them, so here you go! Warning: mild spoilers! No real turning points in the plot revealed, though.)

JasmynJasmyn by Alex Bell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jasmyn by Alex Bell is a book of myths and fairytales - fantasy in its purest form.

The story starts off being about a young widower, Jasmyn Gracey, who over the course of a week is approached by various odd individuals, all asking about her recently deceased husband or for reasons unknown to her, know exactly who she is.

After some bizarre run-ins with dead swans, a black horse, and apparitions of human bones, Jasmyn finds herself joining forces with her estranged brother-in-law Ben, in order to unravel the mysteries surrounding the life & death of her husband.

I found the plot in this novel to be good, and the story and characters kept me engaged throughout. The novel itself is not a particularly difficult read, but it is a very enjoyable one if you are fan of the fantastic with a bit of a taste for the macabre. The "twist" in the story, the one thing that seems to elude Jasmyn throughout the majority of the book, was fairly obvious (to me) about 1/3 of the way in. Despite that, I was still interested in seeing exactly how Bell managed this information, how it was parceled out to us, and what clues she left along the way.

And I have to say, while I found my suspicions confirmed as to the nature of certain relationships within the novel, I was pleasantly surprised by exactly how they were revealed to me, and I found myself slightly off-base as to the motives/identities of certain characters (which I loved). Gotta love a bit of smoke and mirrors in the plot.

There were elements in the book that are fairly fairytale-like in themselves: Jasmyn's albino complexion, her ethereal violin, her connection to her music, her perfect romance with her deceased husband Liam. I did like how other elements in the book (the black horse, the black swans, the red eyes etc) did not have the typical color associations they would other tales.

The novel was fairly fast-moving, and I enjoyed seeing things unravel from Jasmyn's perspective. My favorite moment in the book is the grand reveal, which is done quite well. Jasmyn has revealed so many of her memories to you in the beginning, and you've gotten to see how tightly she's held on to those moments, and how they've defined who she is. The moment when the life she believes she'd lived and the life the world has seen are merge with reality was really well done.

The ending was more or less what I imagined it would be (as this is at its heart a fairytale), but there were moments where the ending was left in doubt. One of the things that I liked about the book, was that every character took in stride the existence of the fantasy world that had bled into their own. There were no lengthy explanations or attempts to explain away what they'd seen/experienced. It happened, they accepted it, and moved forward. There were moments where the plot could have been a bit tighter, or perhaps the elements of the story less transparent, but overall, I'd recommend this book. It was a fun read for Saturday afternoon.

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