Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Godling Watch

You may recall that I loved N.K. Jemisin's Inheritance trilogy.  It's come out as an omnibus (I also love omnibi!), and to with it we have a new novella set in that world: The Awakened Kingdom.  Thanks to Netgalley for a review copy.

As I mentioned, I loved these books.  They're complex but comprehensible, and they deal with some really intricate stuff--how would gods living incarnate interact with human beings?--without getting too abstract or too preachy.  Each book was close enough that they felt very cohesive as a trilogy, but they were not exactly sequels--not only were the main characters different, but they told about the same overarching world events from very different points of view, which prevented any of the standard trilogy things from happening (weak second book, awkward segues between them, etc.).

This novella also takes place quite a long time after the original series, and the narrator is a new godling, just born.  In fact, the language, attitudes, and behavior of the narrator change dramatically over the course of the book, as her vocabulary and understanding of the world increases; I can see how the beginning would be distracting, because the voice is so childish.  I didn't find it to be distracting, though--I actually thought the balance between vocabulary and understanding was quite artfully done, so there's that.

The newest godling, Schill, travels to the land where Yeine was born, hundreds of years after she became one of the Three, to learn more about mortals and to find her nature.  (This story is all about finding your nature.  You might say this theme was laid down a little heavy-handedly.)  She finds the land of Darre has become an oppressive matriarchy, with the rights of men severely curtailed and their humanity constantly questioned. 

This, too, might be seen as heavy-handed; some of these scenes appear almost exaggerated, with men being ignored and their beauty being discussed and their inability to be rational debated and women treating them roughly.  At first I thought some of these scenes were clunky, but if you twist them and rewrite them so the women are wearing carefully described robes and behaving modestly and the men are lecturing them, you realize that it's actually not heavyhanded at all--neither the behavior nor the writing.  If the roles were reversed, I wouldn't have noticed that the scene existed. 

This is pretty powerful, and if you came to me with the argument that this is an Issue book, I wouldn't be able to tell you you're wrong.  But because of Jemisin's care with character, because of her gorgeous depiction of cultures and subcultures and politics (national and familial), because of Shill's childlike straightforwardness and fast-developing wisdom, it's a lot more than that. 

I think the only criticism that I would actually level is that the book is structured into two halves, really, and the first one didn't have much at stake.  In the first half our narrator is born, and tries to find her place, and realizes all the impediments to this that she faces.  And it's interesting, and we like her and want her to succeed, but there's no risk, no tension, and no stakes.  The first half mostly takes place in the gods' realm, where time doesn't mean much, and power is so real and visible that it's not really something anyone is struggling with.  So while I loved the world- and character building going on here, it felt kind of weak to me.

When Shill's travels bring her to Darre, we being to get entangled in mortal politics, and we meet Eino, and things begin to feel more urgent, because there are now lives at stake.  Query Shark is always telling me that it's all about stakes, and it's true that without them, there's tension missing. 

As for the end--it fit with the story, and it was satisfying on some levels, but on others, it was a little out of left field.  I feel like Shill's path was perfect, but Eino--I think I needed Eino's story to fit together a little more tightly.

But reading about Yeine and Itempas and Naha and their children and their world--it's always a delight.  It's not without flaws, but it was a pleasure to read, and I can't ask for a lot more than that.

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