Saturday, February 19, 2011

Genre Queen

When I did my totals for last year, I realized that I read a lot of fantasy and young adult--a lot more than I do of any other kind of book.  I can't say I have a problem with that, but I want to do a little more thinking about why that is. 

Part of it--the obvious part--is that there's so much out there.  I picked up The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms at the library a few weeks ago, completely at random--it was on the new books shelf, I recognized the title, you know the story.  The author's voice was kind of odd, and I was a little turned off at first, but after page 20 or so I was completely hooked.  Here's another author doing a bunch of things I often dislike and making them shine.

Example: gods are major characters.  That involves some intricate, well-planned worldbuilding.  What can the gods do and what can't they?  Are there limits to their powers?  Do they think like us?  It's so easy to gloss right over a lot of the subtleties of godhood--but N.K. Jemisin doesn't.  She's thought all of this through, and if I asked her a question that wasn't referred to directly in the book--do they need to cut their hair?--she'd know the answer off the top of her head, I guarantee. 

Yeine is the daughter of a disinherited member of a very powerful family, raised in a backwater country.  When she's summoned to the capital by the aging grandfather she's never met, she learns that she's been named one of his heirs.  Like it or not, she's caught up in deadly intrigue for the leadership of the entire world, the fate of the people she left behind, and the lives of the gods who lost the last war in heaven.

Another trick the author pulls is to tell the story with a voice that is speaking from a specific time in the future.  She's relating her story in a certain order, revealing events, history, and characters in the order you need them, not necessarily the order they happened.  This is another place where an author can go totally off track.  Sometimes these envelope timelines don't really add anything but bulk and false gravitas to a story.  That is not the case here--the narrator's position, as it's slowly revealed, is a very important part of the climax.

I think what it comes down to is trust.  If I don't know an author, I'm hesitant to trust them with a complicated novel with a lot of difficulty points.  But Jemisin nailed it, and I'm so thrilled to see that the sequel is already out and I can run right out and read it.  As soon as possible.  After I finish the other books I have checked out.  There aren't enough hours in the day.

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