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Who We Are and How We Read: Rethinking N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

The Hundred Thousand KingdomsSeveral of us here at Fantasy Matters have read N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and really enjoyed it, and after reading Matt Rasmusson's review of the novel last week, two of our editors were inspired to write down their own thoughts about the novel.  Reading these reviews in conversation with each other is particularly intriguing, as it highlights how a novel can speak to different people in vastly different ways.  If you have read Jemisin's work, we'd love for you to become part of the conversation as well--post your thoughts in the comments!


Adam Miller:

Well, I did it again: I read a novel, then afterwards learned that it was part of an unfinished trilogy. This is my personal hangup, and it’s the reason that I was unwilling to start reading the Harry Potter series until The Deathly Hallows was released and remain unwilling to start the Kingkiller Chronicles. For high-profile novels, it's a relatively easy thing to do, but for newer novels that I’m unfamiliar with it seems to happens from time to time. The issue is that my memory for plots and characters is not stellar, so I generally feel like I have to re-read any prior novels when new installments come out. In this particular situation, it was an especially painful realization because I loved this novel and don’t look forward to waiting for another novel to be released. The good news in this case is that book two (The Broken Kingdoms) has already been released, and I only have a few months to wait for the trilogy to be complete.

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Religion, Damnation, and Epic Fantasy: A Review of R. Scott Bakker’s The White-Luck Warrior

The Darkness That Comes BeforeFull disclosure: I’m a scholar of religion and literature. So when a series like R. Scott Bakker’s The Prince of Nothing or The Aspect-Emperor comes out, I get very excited. Bakker is one of the most original voices working in epic fantasy today, and his novels revolve ceaselessly around issues of religious belief and metaphysics. For example, the first three books of The Prince of Nothing revolved around a religious war that looked suspiciously like the Crusades. Furthermore, the narrator of the series in general adopts a tone and vocabulary that are by turns historical, scriptural, and epic. The characters act out of a fascinating mélange of motivations, an amalgamation of passion, intellect, and belief. They are concerned with metaphysical questions in a way that not many literary characters are. My nerdish qualities in this regard probably blind me to some of the artistic blemishes of these books. Whatever. I love them.

The Prince of Nothing consists of three books: The Darkness that Comes Before (2003), The Warrior-Prophet (2004), and The Thousandfold Thought (2006). The Aspect-Emperor, picking up the narrative thread, consists of The Judging Eye (2009) and now The White-Luck Warrior (2011). Both series weave together a complicated narrative, but one that draws the reader in rather than pushes her away. No summary of this series can do justice to the sprawling narrative, and in fact many events that have occurred in the series have multiple and conflicting interpretations. So I will merely sketch the outlines, and let the chips fall where they may. What follows contains some minor spoilers for those who have not read the first series, though I am intentionally trying to leave the major revelations to the reader. Still, if you intend to read the first series, you might want to stop reading.

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Hugo Week: Lois McMaster Bujold's Cryoburn

CryoburnI went into Cryoburn blind.  Bujold's novel is the latest installment in the adventures of Miles Vorkosigan, a hero introduced over two decades ago in The Warrior's Apprentice (1986) and who has appeared in over a dozen other novels.  And I'd never read any of them.

And I'll be honest--this made the novel frustrating for me to read at times, particularly the beginning.  I cheated a bit and looked up Miles Vorkosigan on Wikipedia, and looked at his chronology in the back of the book, both of which helped me keep characters straight and have some idea of where Miles was coming from, but I still didn't have the same emotional investment in the characters that a long-time Vorkosigan saga fan would have.  The hardcover version novel also came with a CD containing all the earlier works in the Vorkosigan saga, which I'm sure would be a huge bonus for many Bujold fans, but when I saw the CD, I was hoping for something more transmedial--something that blended genres and enhanced the medium of the novel with an interactive tour of the Vorkosigan universe, perhaps.

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Hugo Week: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms coverYeine Darr is a barbarian from a backwater kingdom.  She is also the daughter of an outcast Arameri, the all-powerful rulers in the The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.  When her mother dies suspiciously, Yeine is summoned back to her family’s seat of power, the city of Sky. In Sky she hopes to discover the truth of her mother’s death, but her investigation is complicated when she is named heir to the king, setting off a power struggle with her vicious cousins.

About now you are thinking that you have read this book before.  Orphaned child: check.  Royal heritage: check.  Courtly intrigue: check.  Fallen gods who function as weapons and sadomasochistic lovers: wait..what?  Sorry, I forgot to mention those.  You see, the Arameri are able to rule the world, because they have gods to smite their enemies whenever their enemies need smiting and the populace needs to be kept in check.  Or simply because the Arameri are bored.  They also have sex with these gods.  Kinky sex.  This took me by surprise, because the book has a fast plot that feels like a YA novel that I expected to fall into normal cliches.  Just when you expect the heroine to fulfill her destiny, whammo, sex with deities.

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Midweek Fiction: Kat Howard, "Sweet Sixteen"

Editor's note: Our apologies--this post originally ran without the interview section.  Our technical difficulties have been fixed, and we thank you for your patience.

Last week, we launched a new weekly feature where we highlight a speculative short story that is available on the Internet.  Our first feature was Kelly Link's "Valley of the Girls," and this week, we feature a story by Kat Howard, our own content editor!

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