What I Read in February

Not quite as much, this month.

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Yes, that’s a blurb from Naomi Novik on the Jemisin book. What can I say? When I like an author, I trust her!

I read four books, all by women, two by a woman of color. It wasn’t really on purpose, those were just the books I wanted to read, but I want to keep track of the voices I’m amplifying in my life. One thing I’ve decided to do this year is to honor my curiosity – I will pursue any inquiry, book, or skill that interests me. I got into the show Continuum this month as well, which ate up my reading time a little bit, since I tend to read from 8-10 after Harley goes to bed. I also just got really tired in general. So, to the inventory.

Tongues of Serpents, Naomi Novik. Sixth book in the Temeraire cycle, which is an alternate history featuring the Napoleonic Wars WITH DRAGONS! (Sounds like a movie, doesn’t it? Peter Jackson thought so too. He optioned the story a few years ago, though I’m not sure what he’s going to actually make with it, or when.) This one took place in colonial Australia, as the main characters were transported to the penal colony for their actions in the last book. I did enjoy Novik’s use of the narrative and character arcs within the story to present the impacts of imperialism and mercantilism on the entire world, from Europe itself to Africa, Asia (China in particular), and Australia. She seems to have been very thorough in her research, and although I am unfamiliar with the history of Australia and can’t testify to its specific accuracy, I can say that the Napoleonic Wars themselves read very well. It’s amusing to read her take on how the military tacticians on both sides might have incorporated dragons into the supply chain logistics and battle tactics of the time.

A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan. Won the Pulitzer in 2011 for fiction, apparently. This one was pretty dark – and unlike the rest of the books I read this month, not fantasy, although it did include some speculative elements – but Egan punctuated the sad mess of her characters’ lives with enough humor to keep from totally dragging me down. I probably am not a sophisticated enough reader to fully appreciate everything she did with it, but I did enjoy her writing and the book’s structure, which stretched quite masterfully across time, cycling through the points of view of characters in a music-centered social circle in New York with sometimes-tenuous personal connections. This book really seemed to focus on how people struggle with their own identity and how that struggle impacts their relationships with others, sometimes violently. It was quite sad but ended on a relatively hopeful note, and Egan found a way to humanize her characters, even when they were guilty of serious crimes (whether legal or relational), without condoning or trying to justify them.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin. Really stunning and original epic fantasy, first of the Inheritance Trilogy. Also very dark. Jemisin completely tosses the Tolkienian swords-and-sorcery framework out the window, which is great, because I think the best authors have done what they can with that particular genre. This world bears no resemblance to Middle Earth, and its gods and godlings are very present and not like any of the traditional gods of fantasy. Jemisin portrays the political and social structure, while steeped in magic and authoritarianism and intrigue and unlike any in our world’s history, with a ring of brutal truth. One god, who is worshiped fanatically and exclusively, has essentially enslaved all the others in mortal form, subordinating them to his chosen ruling family, the Arameri. The amount of power inherent in this arrangement predictably leads to the Arameris’ absolute corruption. This slice of a truly millenia-spanning story is an epic chapter, focusing on Yeine, a warrior, leader, and daughter of an Arameri heiress who relinquished her claim to the throne and eloped from the Arameri seat of Sky to her husband’s land, and Yeine’s journey from that land in the outskirts of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms to treacherous Sky after her mother’s suspicious death.

The Broken Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin. This is not precisely a sequel to the first story, although it does come after the first. It is its own chapter, maybe a bit less epic in scope, but I enjoyed it. Its storyline follows Oree, a blind street artist with the ability to see magic, and her encounters with the gods. I did enjoy it, but it didn’t have some of the characters I really enjoyed from the first book.

Took a break from reading in the last week of February, but I’m now halfway into the last book of the trilogy. Its main character is one of my favorites from the first book: Sieh the Trickster. After this, I’m ready for some nonfiction, and my to-read pile is totally stacked.

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