The Shadowed Sun by N.K. Jemisin

shadowedsun

I don’t have follow-through.

When it comes to books and series, there are far too many that I’ve started and stopped, searching instead for that other read, stretching out for something different.

But when it comes to NK Jemisin, it seems that I have read all of her books!

(And now I have to wait for the next one to come out…. what? next year?!)

I first heard of her books from Eva at A Striped Armchair, when she blogged about The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the first book in the Inheritance trilogy.

And when I finished those three books (sigh! Perhaps a reread is in order!!), I turned to Jemisin’s Dreamblood series, of which there has been The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun. (Jemisin talks about  The Killing Moon on John Scalzi’s blog, if you’re interested in finding out more about her inspiration behind this book – two words ‘ninja priests’ – if that doesn’t make you want to read her books, I don’t know what will!). Here’s the first chapter of The Killing Moon on Jemisin’s website if you’d like to read a bit more.

It had unfortunately been a bit of a time lag between my reading of The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun. Goodreads tells me I read The Killing Moon in December 2012. And oops, The Shadowed Sun was first published in January 2012, making my read quite a delayed one.

Why the delay? I wish I had a legitimate reason like saving it for RIP or Diversiverse. But it probably can be chalked up to my lack of follow-through.

But oh what a read it was.

From that striking cover to its nightmarish premise, I drank it all in.

Here’s the synopsis from Goodreads:

Gujaareh, the city of dreams, suffers under the imperial rule of the Kisuati Protectorate. A city where the only law was peace now knows violence and oppression. A mysterious and deadly plague now haunts the citizens of Gujaareh, dooming the infected to die screaming in their sleep. Someone must show them the way.

It’s an unusually short synopsis this one. I suppose there must be a longer one somewhere but this one is adequate. Because what made the book was not just the storyline, this nightmare that is creeping around the city, but those wonderful characters that Jemisin has created, and how she has nurtured them and brought them through life and all its motions, its joys and suffering, its pleasures, its fears.

The two main characters are Hanani, the first female Sharer (she’s a kind of healer) and Wanahomen, the son of the fallen Prince, who is rounding up his allies and establishing his power. And what characters they are! You aren’t expected to like Wana at first, he’s hardened, unfriendly, and long-prejudiced against the Sharers and the Hetawa. Hanani comes across at first as unsure of herself, as a Sharer-Apprentice, as the first female Sharer-Apprentice, the first female member of the Hetawa.

Jemisin has created such genuine characters. While I did not start out liking Wana – and it took a very long time for me to grudgingly accept him – he seemed so very real a person. A large part of his character development is due to his interactions with Hanami but this is far from a romantic or traditional kind of situation. Hanami was my favourite character, her dedication to her work and to her life as Sharer, her willingness to adapt to her new life with the Banbarra, her ability to connect with others. And through her, learning about the gender roles in the different societies, the power structures in the tribe, and life in this new place she finds herself in.

And this world that Jemisin has created! Based on Egyptian mythology, a world where women are deemed goddesses but are hardly given any freedom to do as they wish, where men are veiled and only unveil themselves at home and with those close to them. And where the Sharers access dreamscapes and heal their patients. Of course, it was first introduced in The Killing Moon, but the introduction of the Banbarra and their tribal society brings such greater depth and sense of place to her constructed universe.

If you’ve never read anything by NK Jemisin before, go! Run out to your library or your bookstore or just buy an e-copy of one of her books. And read! And be amazed. And please come back and tell me all about it!

 

N. K. Jemisin is an author of speculative fiction short stories and novels who lives and writes in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has been nominated for the Hugo (three times), the Nebula (four times), and the World Fantasy Award (twice); shortlisted for the Crawford, the Gemmell Morningstar, and the Tiptree; and she has won a Locus Award for Best First Novel as well as the Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award (three times).
diversiverselavinia-portraitRIP1
I read this book for Diversiverse and RIP IX

Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal

withoutsummer

“Jane, Lady Vincent could never be considered a beauty, but possessed of a loving husband and admirable talent, had lived thirty years in the world with only a few events to cause her any true distress or vexation. She was the eldest of two daughters of a gentleman in the neighbourhood of Dorchester. In consequence of her mother’s nerves, Jane had spent the better part of her youth acting as mother to her younger sister, Melody. Her sister had received nature’s full bounty of beauty, with all the charms of an amiable temper. At the age of twenty, it was therefore surprising to find Melody not only unmarried, but without any prospects.”

And so we learn from the opening paragraph, that this book, the third in the Glamourist Histories series, will feature more of Melody, who surprises all, especially her older sister, when she turns out to be more than just a pretty face.

Jane admires her sister’s beauty, being a bit of a plain, er, Jane herself. Especially since her sister is quite becoming, both in terms of physical beauty (set off by her well-chosen wardrobe) and her charm (knowing what to say and when).

“Jane could not help but notice the picture her sister made as they were escorted through the palace interior and to the grounds behind it. Over her dress, she wore her celestial-blue Hessian pelisse, which fastened with broad ornamental frogs up to her throat in the manner of an officer’s uniform. The regularity of the braids cast the swell of her bosom into graceful contrast. Her gold curls were piled onto her head and peeked becomingly from beneath a high-crowned hat that had been trimmed with blue and white ostrich features. She carried before her a muff as white as a cloud against the sky.”

Jane’s concerns at the moment, besides her work which has brought her and Vincent to London, is with introducing her sister to the eligible young men of London:

“Is it necessary for you to throw me at every young man who appears?”

Of a sudden, the room felt overwarm as Jane blushed deeply. “I did not know that my efforts were so transparent.”

“La! I dare say half the room knows that I am for sale.”

Then there is that simple matter of meeting Vincent’s estranged family for the first time. His father, the scheming and dark Lord Verbury, his guileful sister Lady Penelope, and his quiet and unassuming mother, among a host of others.

So wrapped up is she in these rather pressing matters (as well as some political intrigue) that she hardly sees her sister for who she really is.

“We talk politics. I am becoming quite bookish. I am even thinking of acquiring spectacles.”

Jane laughed aloud at the thought of her sister as pedantic scholar. “Forgive me. I do not doubt your intelligence, but it is hard to picture you as an old maid with your hair pulled back and spectacles settled upon your nose.”

We mustn’t forget the world of glamour they live in. For Vincent and Jane are highly regarded glamourists, the Prince Regent’s glamourists. And as they arrange their threads and weave their folds, they are constantly thinking of their coldmonger colleagues, who weave a different glamour of their own, working with cold, as their occupation states.

It’s not the easiest thing to describe, this glamour, it’s ethereal and yet when fastened properly, is quite lasting. It is used mostly for frivolous purposes, such as glamurals at parties and events, but as we had seen in Glamour in Glass, also can be used for military purposes, such as creating a sphere obscurie to hide oneself, or troops.

“With a flash of colour like a prism dropping through sunlight, the glamour shivered into a rainbow.”

It is a complicated procedure and some can take days, weeks of work.

“To someone whose eyes were only adjusted to the visible world, Vincent appeared to be waving his hands at random while washes of colour came into view overhead. When Jane let her vision expand to include the ether, his real work became apparent. Vincent pulled skeins of pure glamour and folded their light to his whims. Almost like a puppet showman working a marionette upside down, he wove a pattern on the ceiling with the folds.”

It’s a little bit of fantasy, a little bit of Regency romance, set in Jane Austen’s time, and with some rioting and politicking thrown in. Plus there are intelligent female characters, one of whom actually works (as opposed to sitting around and trimming bonnets), and the other is bookish. My library has deemed fit to label it as ‘Science Fiction’ (the shelves of which encompass fantasy), but to those who think fantasy/SF isn’t quite their cup of tea, it’s worth a try. Kowal has created a brilliant series, inspired by Jane Austen’s works, but truly, magically, her very own.

It looks like the fourth book, Valour and Vanity, will be out in April this year. Can’t wait!

Mary Robinette Kowal’s Bibiliography

Novels
Shades of Milk and Honey, Tor Books, 2010
Glamour in Glass, Tor Books, 2012
Without a Summer, Tor Books, 2013

Collections
Scenting the Dark and Other Stories, Subterranean Press, 2009

The Wayfarer Redemption

Ok so I would never have picked up this book if f I had been browsing the shelves. One look at the cover and I’d probably have put it back. Can you blame me? It’s not attractive. The colours are rather dull and washed out. I don’t quite know what those characters are doing.

The thing about The Wayfarer Redemption is that it’s good in a cheesy 80s sort of way. Everyone is remarkably gorgeous, the kind who belong on the catwalk or on the cover of a magazine. Evil is really evil. And good is good. It’s all black and white, with little grey. There’s a prophecy that has the three races of this land Tencendor reunited under the StarMan (yeah, it’s very Ziggy Stardust. Other characters are named StarDrifter and Tree Friend! I mean, Tree Friend, really??). And of course battles and plenty of action against these wraith-like creatures called Skraelings and Skraebolds. There’s also a love affair between the pretties. Essentially it’s pretty much what a decent fantasy book is about. Love and war and the supernatural. It’s quite standard fare. Nothing that pushes the boundaries too much.

Reading The Wayfarer Redemption is like having a nice cup of English Breakfast Tea in the morning. It won’t quite jolt you from the morning sleepies like an espresso will, but it will wake you up gradually enough to get you through the day. And since I do like my English Breakfast Tea, I’m off to request the next book from the library!

One thing that has me a little puzzled though is the titling of this series. The Wayfarer Redemption is also titled as BattleAxe. There is also a trilogy known as The Wayfarer Redemption Trilogy but is actually considered books four to six after the Axis Trilogy. Confused? Yeah so am I. 

Dreamhunter

Oh. Oh. The first book of the year to suck me in completely, Dreamhunter: Book One of the Dreamhunter Duet was absorbing, intriguing, compelling and all the other good ‘ings’ you can think of.

Dreaming has become an industry in Southland (which is more or less like an early 20th century western city, except for the Place – more later), where people crowd into dream palaces and prominent dreamhunters like Grace Tiebold and Tziga Hame usher them into a vivid dream: “Dreams as full and physical as lived experiences – but in which people were never themselves, so that the timid could be brave, the infirm could be well, men could be women and women men, and the old could be young again.” But dreamhunting, while glamorous for some, is rife with difficulties. Dreamhunters take on a strange, kind of haggard look, “as though the distances into which they looked exhausted them, were full of terrible battles or tormenting mysteries”.

Laura is the only daughter of Tziga Hame, the first dreamhunter, the one who discovered the Place, where dreams can be caught by a select few, the dreamhunters. Laura and her cousin Rose (the daughter of Grace Tiebold) are about to turn 15, the age when youngsters can Try, that is, to see if they can cross over to the Place. Laura is destined for greatness, which her father and the reader know all too clearly, but she hides in the shadow of her feisty cousin. The story begins rather slowly – rather like waking up in the morning, things move slow and you’re a little disoriented, not sure where you are. As you settle into your routine, and into this land full of dreams, Dreamhunter picks up up the pace. Tziga Hame goes missing just as Laura and Rose are about to Try. And he’s caught up in some kind of something that is big and something that is dangerous, and Laura finds herself way in over her head as she tries to follow her father’s wishes. Unfortunately this was just part one of a two-parter, and when Dreamhunter ended, my instant reaction was to figure out where the second half of the series was available*.

Elizabeth Knox has created a complex, engrossing story, a little magical because of the dreaming but also very grounded due to the intrigue that surrounds the government,  especially the Secretary of the Interior, as well as the Hame family and their magical songs. Laura is a great character – once she becomes her own self, that is. Her relationship with Rose is touching and lovely in a sisterly way. But the best part of the book is the dreaming, the dream sharing and the weirdness of the Place. What a strange and wondrous idea.

I picked this up for  the Global Reading Challenge, for the Australasia (Oceania) segment.

 

* Someone else has checked it out!! GAAAHH….! So much for not thinking ahead….