I’m not even gonna lie, ya’ll. I want to win the Goodreads Choice Award for fantasy.
I feel like I should maybe feel bad about wanting this, because I’m competing against such good writers; I’ve enjoyed and admired so many of the books on this list. And some of those writers are even friends! But my friends know full well how competitive I am, so… buds? Compadres? O Best Beloveds? Bring it, bitches.
Of course, there’s a reason I’m full of pepper at the moment: a week of fantasmical reviews for The Broken Kingdoms, and even a few for the (now mass market) The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. The reviews haven’t been uniformly positive, of course — but oh em gee the positive ones have been phenomenal. I especially love io9’s, by Charlie Jane again:
Everything is just cooler this time around — the setting, the characters, and the storytelling. Instead of spending the whole book trapped inside the somewhat sterile confines of the Arameri court, like we did in the first book, we get out into the city formerly known as Sky (now called Shadow, because it’s in the shadow of a great magical tree.) The city is a fascinating place, full of merchants, soldiers… and mischievous godlings, demigods who are underfoot everywhere due to the events in the first book. Shadow feels like a place you’d want to spend a lot of time — except that you’d probably fall afoul of some of the town’s more mischievous, or outright predatory, inhabitants.
Predatory! ::delight:: Lil would totally sop this review up with a biscuit. (And the reviewer. And the magazine. And the internet…)
And then there’s the Barnes & Noble book club’s review, by Paul Goat Allen:
Yes, the same elements that powered the first book fuel The Broken Kingdoms: exceptional world building and character development; a plethora of philosophical, provocative themes (the ability, or lack thereof, to change; the hypocrisy of organized religion; what it means to be human; etc.); and an engaging and endearing female heroine. But it’s the intense and at times brutal relationship between Oree and her mysterious housemate that make this novel a truly intimate read.
A philosophical and provocative plethora! Say that five times fast!
But it’s not just the big-name review sites that have made me happy. I especially liked this one at the King of Elfland’s Second Cousin (OMG that blog name is a thing of beauty). This one gets into juicy analytical stuff that I just love to see:
Oree is a disabled member of a historically-oppressed minority. As a result, she represents a refreshing antithesis to the standard fantasy heroine (Oree is neither white, nor is she able to wield two swords at once in a spinning dance of death). In the hands of a lesser author, Oree’s race would turn this book into a simplistic caricature of contemporary racial relations, but Jemisin neatly avoids that trap. Oree’s background and the history of her race are intrinsic to the plot, but her character is woven of more complex strands than race alone. By taking the societal consequences of ancient choices and making them concrete through the experiences of her characters, Jemisin produces a rich and complex society, and avoids the solipsistic condemnation of either the majority or the minority. This enables Jemisin to introduce much stronger and deeper characterization for her principle actors, building a very subtle and effectively post-racial character without sacrificing the plot elements that hinge upon her narrator’s background.
I’m not much in the habit of arguing with reviews — though I might gripe about the harsher ones now and then; I’m only human, ya’ll — but I do feel compelled to voice two quibbles with this. a) The term “post-racial” is one that I usually reject in real life, and I reject it in this fantasy case too. Oree still very much has to deal with the negative consequences of being Maro in an Amn-dominated world. She’s constantly objectified and essentialized (though this is also because she’s female and disabled); she’s poor in part because of generational poverty, the Maro having lost everything and started over again; and the whole reason she left Nimaro is because her people’s losses and struggle have made them ultraorthodox Itempans who can no longer tolerate… er… ah… something that they used to revere. (Being vague here to avoid spoilers — but if you’ve read the book, you know what I mean.) So when you’re still dealing with the effects of race, you can’t really be post-racial. I would suggest instead that Oree is an intersectional character in that race is only one component of her identity, and not the only one that’s treated as problematic by her society.
And b) Oree could too wield two swords in a spinning dance of death. She’d just destroy her house and kill all her (mortal) friends in the process. And possibly chop off her own limbs. But that doesn’t mean she couldn’t!
…Aaaanyway, obviously this has been a good week. And it’s only Wednesday!