Booker award winning novelist Marlon James jumps into the epic fantasy game and produces a book that is gorgeous on the sentence level, well constructed on the paragraph level, but hugely challenging as a book.
Perhaps I’m not smart enough, or my attention isn’t focused enough, but I found this one to be tough sledding. James’s use of language is stunning, and I often found myself awed by his phrasing, but I also found it difficult to follow the narrative (such as it is) and never came to care much about the characters. People I respect love this book and say it haunts them months after they finished it, but it never landed with me. I kept feeling like I was just a couple of pages from having the whole thing click together, but it never happened. Despite the beauty of some of the language, I can’t recommend this. Your mileage may vary.
The Obelisk Gate
This is the follow up to Jemisin’s incredible, mind blowing, the Fifth Season and its good. Very good, even. Jemisin’s prose is top rate, and the story churns forward revealing more about our characters and the world they inhabit, while still keeping up the mystery and allure that made Fifth Season so wonderfully strange.
But its hard to follow up on a classic. I don’t know anything about how Jemisin wrote these books, but the sense I get is Fifth Season was painfully crafted, perhaps over years, every sentence worked to death, then every paragraph, then every chapter, then back again. The Obelisk Gate doesn’t have the same feeling. It’s a damn good book, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t have the clock work precision of Fifth Season.
Still and all, if excellent SF/Fantasy is your thing, odds are you’ve already read this. If gorgeously written novels struggling with identity, gender, race, and the nature of relationships interests you, you should get over your genre prejudices and check this one out.
The Fifth Season
The first volume in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. The story of a world beset by earth quakes and other natural phenomenon, which can be kept at bay (or instigated) by a group of people with the power to control the forces of the earth. Called Orogenes, these people are hated, and feared. But why? Because they’re dangerous? Because they’re different? Because they’re strong? The story of some o these Orogenes and their shifting place in society is the center of this book. Their adventures and misfortunes are what move the plot. This book won a Hugo this year, and you see why. The writing is light years better than the average fantasy novel. Jemisin is a gifted writer of real subtly, who introduces her characters, and her world, gradually, and carefully, revealing a bit more here and there to flesh out her heroes, and villains, and the world in which they live.
There’s plot twists and reveals here that in the hands of a lesser author would feel contrived. But Jemisin knows what she’s doing. While I may have uttered a “holy shit” once or twice when a revelation about the nature of the story finally dawned on me, I never felt conned like I sometimes do with books that have this sort of reveal-as-they-go structure. Yeah, this book is “fantasy” and I know that label alone may turn some off. But I suggest you get out of you comfort zone here and give it a try. It’s a great ride.
Ed note: This was written for a new defunct live journal circa 2007 before GOT became the pop culture juggernaut it is now.
A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 3)
George R.R. Martin
Basically a soap opera, but my kind of soap opera, with the occasional swordfight/dragon and or touch of sorcery, but still I totally enjoyed it. If I didn’t spend my days grappling with the contradictions inherent in the balance between equity and the rule of law, maybe I’d feel guilty reading so much fantasy and science fiction.
I am not that well versed in fantasy, having spent my alienation teenage years reading SF instead, but there’s a lot of interesting things I think you could say about fantasy, at least as it is written by Martin. There’s some intense stuff going on here with regards to gender and class. The story line is on its face is one of a world of the noble where men are men and women are women, but things are more complicated than that as the story progresses and as often as not, the high born turn out to be fuckers, and the women to be as complex as the men (which is more than you can say for much popular portrayals of women in literature) and often stronger.
As I have mentioned in my other reviews of the first two books, the violence here is gruesome and visceral and it doesn’t always take place on the battlefield. Rape and other forms of intimate violence occur frequently and unexpectedly. As do the deaths of characters you think are central. My understanding from the internet is Martin is having a hard time with the next volume. I hope he hurries up, I need to find out how this all ends.