The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Inheritance, Book One)

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Inheritance, Book One)
N. K. Jemisin, 2010

Challenge Book! Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2016 - Read the first book in a series by a person of color

Premise: Shortly after her mother’s death, Yeine is summoned to the city of Sky, the city of the ruling Arameri family, the city and family her mother rejected and abandoned. She was brought up to be a local leader and a warrior, but if she hopes to survive her scheming high-born kin, she’ll need knowledge and allies that are both in short supply.

I love it when a book is worth the hype. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is an exquisitely crafted novel. It explores culture, cosmology, theology, and morality in a gripping, personal story about one woman, her past and future, and her place in the universe.

The world is made up of countless kingdoms, but they are all under the ultimate rule of Sky and the Arameri, because the Arameri have an advantage granted them by the Skyfather, Itempas. I don’t want to say much more if you haven’t read it, because it’s a delight to explore and discover the truths about the world alongside Yeine. Every time she finds an answer, there’s another question, another truth, or a darker secret lurking in the silences.

I love Sky itself: a ridiculous, impossible palace atop a spire that quite literally looks down on the rest of the world. I love the characters: each grasping for survival or success, some with an intricate, inhuman sense of morality, and some with a lack of compassion that is all too human.

Yeine’s narration is immediate and compelling, while also integrating an aura of myth and destiny. She is telling it from the end of the novel looking back, and occasionally the story fractures, leading us down new paths and hinting at the deeper stories. Now that I’ve finished, I am tempted to re-read it just to catch all the foreshadowing and alternate meanings.

It’s a fantastic read, start to finish.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

The Waterborn (Children of the Changeling, Book One)

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Waterborn (Children of the Changeling, Book One)
Greg Keyes, 1996, New ebook edition 2015

New ebook release! I received a copy of this book from Netgalley for review.

Premise: Perkar lives in a land full of gods: the little gods of things, the gods of places, the bigger gods of the old places that bargained with his ancestors. Hezhi lives in a city with one god. The River controls the city, controls the priesthood, controls the rules that govern Hezhi’s royal blood. They each set forth to change their fate, and so may change the fate of many more.

I really liked this. It’s been a decent while since I’ve read such a strong fantasy novel. It’s long without dragging, although if it were written today, it would probably be broken up into two books.

Both Perkar and Hezhi’s societies are explored carefully, and the differences are stark. I want this book to be a movie or a miniseries. Casting it would make some people’s heads explode.

You see, it features a young man who loves a stream-goddess and does many foolish things for that love, and then has to face the consequences. It features a girl who seeks knowledge and truth above all else after her cousin disappears. He lives in a ‘barbarian’ land where honor and combat is prized, and young men are expected to have a household and a herd. She lives in a huge palace in a vast city where class mobility is miniscule and the power of the royal family is above all. The herdsmen of the hills are explicitly light-skinned, while the city people are dark.

Hezhi is probably the most powerful character, and she is a young girl of color. Awesome.

Perkar and Hezhi are tied together by fate, by the gods who take an interest in their lives, and by their own struggles to understand and survive what destiny has in store. They are both interesting, flawed characters who come into kinds of power, and have to figure out how to handle that.

It’s not perfect, and the plot does meander occasionally, but the world is really interesting and the characters compelling. That’s most of what I’m looking for in a novel, and I’ll probably read the sequel.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 1: Cosmic Avengers

Monday, January 11, 2016

Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 1: Cosmic Avengers
Brian Michael Bendis, Steve McNiven, Sara Pichelli, et. al., 2014

Premise: The Guardians of the Galaxy, plus fan-favorite Iron Man, are up against a coalition of galactic powers with ambiguous goals. One goal is clear, though: Quill's father, lord of the Spartax Empire, wants him home... or dead. Collects Guardians of the Galaxy #0.1, #1-3, GotG: Tomorrow's Avengers #1

I enjoyed reading this, but only a few days later, not much of it stayed with me. The art is nice, modern comic art. Sticking Iron Man into the story feels more than a bit like an obvious marketing ploy, although his snark adds a fun dimension to the book.

Issue #0.1 is a retelling/revamping of the origin story for Peter Quill (aka Star-Lord). It’s fairly well done and probably the most interesting bit of the book. The main plot of the book concerns King J-Son and a council made up of rulers of all the major galactic powers. They discuss the jurisdiction of Earth, and J-Son seems to be using the others to set the Guardians up for a fall. The team, meanwhile, is trying to figure out what's really going on and escape galactic forces while simultaneously protecting the earth.

That's the plot of only about half the ‘pages’ of the book, because I have the digital version. The other half ("Tomorrow’s Avengers #1") is a short series of digital comics: one for each member of the Guardians except Quill, putting a spotlight on each character and telling what they were doing just before the events of the main story.

These are pretty good, although it might make more sense to read them before the main story, since that's when they take place. Each short is done by a different artist.

This might be the first digital comic book that I've read that was built for the form. It's effectively a cross between a traditional comic and a flip-book. Many times, very little changes between panels, just adding a speech bubble or changing a character's position. You could also think of it at times like animation that is only keyframes, that you're manually advancing. It was really interesting to read, although it took a little to get used to at first.

Overall this was fun but nothing groundbreaking or incredibly compelling.

3 Stars - A Good Book

The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett
Nathan Ward, 2015

New Release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Everyone familiar with Hammett’s writing knows it was inspired by his time as a Pinkerton Detective. But what does that actually mean? Nathan Ward attempts to reconstruct Hammett’s pre-writing career and its impact.

I enjoyed reading this book, but it’s trying to fill a very specific niche. It’s not a complete biography; it’s not much about the later part of Hammett’s life. It is mostly an attempt to reconstruct where and when he worked as a detective and the people or kinds of people he worked with.

There is very little confirmed material to work with, so the author has to rely on third-party recollections or examples from similar operatives and/or operations. He questions the truth of some of the more impressive stories Hammett told about his time with Pinkerton, but replaces the whiz-bang tales with a more grounded sense of the people and cases Hammett would have encountered and what published work they may have later inspired.

The portrait that emerges, of a man always working against the clock of his health, is a compelling one. I also really liked the actual corroborated stories of cases that Pinkerton operatives worked, whether Hammett was involved or not.

However, while I think it succeeded in its specific mandate, I might sometime like to read a more complete biography.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book