Book Review – Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse

This book sideswiped me. I like to think of myself as pretty up to date on SFF publishing. I check the Locus website for upcoming publications. I read articles about the most anticipated releases of the year. I follow burgeoning authors on twitter. I use all of this information to recommend purchases at the library, helping to do some legwork for our Fiction Selector, since she’s in charge of developing the entire collection (over 500,000 circulating materials).

But, with all of that, I still managed to miss the announcements and hype for Trail of Lightning before it was published. In fact, I didn’t hear about it until a couple months after it was out and there were murmurs of its pending awards nominations. Even then, I didn’t get it added to my TBR for another couple months, and only just now finally made time to read it.

Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars

trail of lightning

Y’all. Buds. This book? This book is relentless. The main character, Maggie, is at once familiar and incredibly original. She’s a badass, through and through, but she’s also dealing with a lot of trauma and doesn’t know how to cope. I love her in all her stubborn glory. It’s rare for me to read an Urban Fantasy, which this loosely qualifies as, and read female characters that aren’t sexualized. Even female POV books tend to do this, and I’ve yet to figure out why. But, Maggie? Sure, Maggie’s sexy but not just for sexy’s sake. She feels real. Important. She can be sexy, but it isn’t her only trait. She’s not defined by it.

I loved that.

There’s also a huge world to explore and a ton of secondary characters I want to know more about. Basically, all my basic requirements for a binge-worthy Urban Fantasy series were there, and then some. For instance, this book is set after what’s known as the Big Water, aka post-climate change. The world is redrawn into the protected zone of Dinétah (land of the People, basically) and not. And while Dinétah is relatively safe from the carnage of unchecked climate change, there’s still plenty that’s gone wrong within the walls.

Also, this book balances the macabre and humor very, very well. Plus, the pacing is out of control. I mentioned in my Goodreads review that this book grabs you and doesn’t let go. Now, a lot of reviews say that about books, but rarely do I actually feel like a book dragged me through the mud with it, in a good way of course, and left me out of breath by the end.

Other great things about this book:

  • Really cool magic linked to the family clans of the book’s Indigenous People, particularly the Navajo in this book.
  • Navajo mythology! Coyote, as in the Trickster, is in this book and it is incredibly cool. It’s really wonderful to see non-European mythology in an Urban Fantasy(ish) book. As much as I love different takes on Faerie Courts and Vampires, I could really get behind some more variety in Fantasy fiction.
  • Characters! So many wonderful ones. Maggie, of course, Grandpa Tah, his grandson Kai, Grace and her three badass kids. Oh man. So many. Roanhorse does a wonderful job of fleshing them all out while maintaining her, terse, stacatto prose.
  • Speaking of which. I LOVED the prose of this book. There were so many sentence fragments, and it felt so natural that I often didn’t realize it until my editor brain pumped the breaks and made me reread some lines. Think about it. People don’t speak in complete sentences. We don’t. But so frequently we write in them that we can forget how to use them in a first person narrative. but Rebecca Roanhorse sure as hell knows how to wield a sentence fragment, which only makes her longer, more complex sentences stand out and carry that much more weight. *chef’s kiss*
  • It’s an incredibly quick read. At under 300 pages, told at breakneck speed, you could conceivably rad this book in a day. I read it in four.
  • Um. The cover art? Did you see it? It’s freaking gorgeous! I can’t look away from Maggie, except I want to look at all the other details too! The truck, the lightning, Kai and his spiky hair and cigarette. The subtle metallic shimmer of the gold background. I love it all. Image result for pitter patter gif

So, yeah. What are you waiting for? Go read this book! Plus, this is the perfect time because the sequel, Storm of Locusts, comes out NEXT WEEK! Whaaaaaat?

See, now you have no excuse not to read this book! So what are you waiting for?

I’ll be back later this week to scream at you about the second Shades of Magic book. Barring any other news (fingers crossed) you won’t hear from me until then. Have a good middle of the week, Blogland.

 

BZ

Book Review – The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth #3) by N.K. Jemisin

Finally, after months and months of trying to make time for this book, I’ve finished it.

Don’t let that be a reflection on the book; it’s not its fault. I wasn’t reading much of anything when I first checked out The Stone Sky. It’d been over a year since I read The Obelisk Gate, and though my reviews helped me remember what had happened, picking up the pieces and jumping back in was a bigger job than I was prepared to do.

But, I kept trying.

And finally, almost six months later, it’s done.

Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars

The Stone Sky

The Stone Sky is the final book in the Hugo award-winning Broken Earth trilogy. You can read my reviews of both The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate, but do beware of spoilers.

As in the previous two novels, Jemisin does some really interesting things with point of view, bouncing between three characters and their various timelines to tell the story of struggle and survival as Essun and her daughter unknowingly work against each other. The author spent the last two books developing the world, magic system, and characters, while delicately weaving the thread of plot through each of them, much like the silver threads of magic in the books.

By the time we get to The Stone Sky, things are getting dire. Nassun and Schaffa follow the mysterious grey Stoneater to the opposite side of the world, while Essun and the Castrima comm travel the dangerous road to the now abandoned city of Renanis.

But, it was the third point of view that was my favorite. For the first time in the series, there is a First Person narrator. It’s vague and set far back in the past, but as the story goes on you slowly put the pieces together and realize who’s been telling this story all along.

Honestly, we really should have known.

I don’t want to get too spoiler-y here, but I do need to talk a bit about this series from a writer’s perspective. This series is one that, with every book, had me constantly in awe. N.K. Jemisin is an artist. She told a story from a multitude of perspectives, many of which I could not readily relate to, and had me invested in each and every possible outcome.

nk-jemisin
N.K. Jemisin

She is an author who is purposeful and methodical. Nothing came across as superfluous or unnecessary, and I often had to stop and marvel at what I’d just read, especially when I realized how it connected with something I’d read in a previous book.

I will never tell a story the way N.K. Jemisin does. That’s okay. But, she has most definitely inspired me and reminded me that writing doesn’t have to be unadorned to be clear, and that genre fiction doesn’t have to be mainstream to be popular.

I cried at the end; because it was sad, yes, but also because it was perfect. How else could it have possibly ended? Ending a story, especially one as complex as The Broken Earth, is never easy. Rarely do I come to the end of a beloved series and feel satisfied with the outcome.

But, by the time I finally closed The Stone Sky for the last time, I felt… whole. There was a warmth in my chest at finally having all the pieces, and knowing how Essun, Nassun, Hoa, and all the rest ended the Fifth Season and set the world right.

It was powerful and poignant, and the series addressed such universal themes as birth, motherhood, death, and what makes a family. And it did so in a way that was indisputably natural for the world and its characters.

I still think The Fifth Season was the best book in the trilogy, in terms of enjoyment, but it was also the most straightforward of the tales. It developed the world and, really, a single character, while setting the tone and expectation of the narrative. The Obelisk Gate handled two new characters, and the bulk of the action and plot. The Stone Sky had the daunting task of bringing all of that together in a way that was effective and satisfying.

No easy task, and yet, it did so with apparent ease.

I really hope The Stone Sky wins the Hugo for Best Novel this year. I really think it and N.K. Jemisin deserve it. It’s worth mentioning here (and pretty much anywhere else) that Jemisin was the first black author to win the Hugo for Best Novel in 2016 for The Fifth Season. She did it again in 2017 for The Obelisk Gate.

I recently purchased another of her books, The Dreamblood Duology, of which I know nothing about. I bought it purely because she wrote it, and I adore her thanks to the Broken Earth trilogy. Her name on the book was all the coercion I needed.

Sadly, I won’t be reading anything from her again anytime soon. My reading list is pretty stacked at the moment. Hopefully the last half of the year will have some room to spread out and try something new.

Until then, I highly recommend The Broken Earth trilogy. Read it. You won’t be sorry.

 

BZ

Book Review- The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

Hi Blogland!

I’m finally here to discuss The Obelisk Gate. Though I fear it won’t be in quite as much detail as usual, because I’ve read five more books since then. It’s just no that fresh in my mind right now, and that’s totally my fault for taking so long to get this review out.

First I would like to strongly suggest you read my review of The Fifth Season, because I outline the general characters, magic system, and world there. I won’t be doing that again here, so read up. Also, if you haven’t read The Fifth Season yet, you really should. It won the Hugo for Best Novel this year, and deserved to 100%.

Now, without further ado, The Obelisk Gate!theobeliskgate

This book picks up directly where the first left off. Essun is with Alabaster and Antimony in Castrima’s makeshift hospital, discussing how she must catch the moon and return it to its proper place in orbit around the Earth.

Since Essun has never even heard of such a thing as a moon, the concept takes a bit of time for her to digest. Alabaster begins training her to use the Obelisks. How to call them and commune with them, so that she can amplify her powers in order to be strong enough to capture the moon. This training is slow, mainly because Alabaster is dying. Bit by bit he is turning to stone, and will be eaten by Antimony.Any time he uses his Orogeny, more of him calcifies.

While this laborious training takes place, the book bounces between Essun’s point of view, Nassun’s point of view, and Schaffa’s point of view.

Nassun is a very talented Orogene. Better even than her mother. She learns intuitively what Alabaster struggles to teach Essun, that all Orogeny is actually magic. There’s something in them, in the very Earth that isn’t quite quantifiable. A silver thread runs through them and the the Earth, through all living things, and it is able to be manipulated by Orogeny.

As Essun learns this, Nassun experiments with it. And Schaffa battles it. It’s this silver thread that pulses within Guardians. It controls them, gives them their unnaturally long lives and the ability to silence Orogeny. But it also craves Orogeny. Their power is almost like a food source and the Guardians need it to feel less pain. Nassun learns this because she and Jija go to Antarctica and find Schaffa. He takes her under his wing, and teaches her to become a better Orogene than even her mother.

When Schaffa went after Seyenite and nearly killed her, we thought he’d drowned. But, he succumbed to the “evil” Father Earth, and sacrificed much of himself in order to survive. He has fleeting memories of his life before drowning, and he’s spent the last decade traveling and collecting young Orogenes, creating a small, fledgling Fulcrum of his own, off the grid in Antarctica.

And he has his own plans.

Central to all of this are the Stone Eaters. It seems that extremely strong Orogenes are irresistible to Stone Eaters. But once a Stone Eater has claimed an Orogene, that person is off limits to other Stone Eaters. Alabaster has Antimony. Essun has Hoa. And now Nassun has Steel. These creatures remain the most enigmatic element of Jemisin’s books. I’m still not sure what they want. What is their stake in all of this?

JemisinHiRes1.jpg
The lovely N.K. Jemisin

Hoa is aligned with Essun. And Antimony is too, via Alabaster. But Steel? He nearly killed Hoa, and would have killed Essun too. And now he’s attached to Nassun.

As much as I enjoyed this book, it left me with far more questions than answers. There are so many moving pieces, and I feel like I was handed the tools to figure it all out in this book, but lack the knowledge to actually use them.

I don’t understand Schaffa’s motivations right now. I like him a lot, and his tenderness for Nassun is touching. And his quiet brutality is riveting. It seems like he has very similar goals as Essun and Alabaster, which seems counter to what I know about him. But, all told, I don’t actually know that much about Schaffa, or Alabaster for that matter.

But, I know that those three all want to do something to/with the moon. And according to Hoa, some Stone Eaters want that too. However, they are not a united people. There are Stone Eaters who want to harvest Orogenes, and basically slaughter them all. Steel is one of those Stone Eaters.

That’s pretty much where the book leaves off. Obviously there’s much more interpersonal drama that fills the pages. Like Essun and Alabaster getting closure on their doomed relationship, and even enjoying one another’s company again. Or, Tonkee and Essun nearly getting kicked out of Castrima as tensions rise when food rations shrink. There’s the tense, fragile relationship between Nassun and Jija, as she convinces him time and time again not to kill her like he did Uche. And there’s the burgeoning parental love between Nassun and Schaffa.

Character development was huge in this book. Much more so than world-building. Characters and the magic system were the headliners here, and it does not disappoint. In the moment, The Obelisk Gate is very good. I enjoyed every moment. It’s when the veil falls away, and you start looking at the book with closer scrutiny that it starts to fall short in comparison with its predecessor.

But, The Fifth Season is a hard book to compete with. I think I can give The Obelisk Gate a break there. Still a great book, and I can’t wait for the last title in the series!

Thanks again for reading this far Blogland. I should be back tomorrow with a goals update. Spoiler Alert: it didn’t go that well this week. I’m also looking to write the A Monster Calls book review, as well as catch you all up on what I’m reading now. I’ve been burning through books, so hopefully I can keep the reviews coming.

See you soon,

 

BZ