jml's notebook

Books, by gum

Stealing a moment to write down some more of these.

The Inheritance Trilogy, N. K. Jemisin

Consisting of,

I read these on the strength of Jemisin's excellent Broken Earth trilogy, for which Jemisin won three Hugos in a row.

The books of the Inheritance Trilogy are unquestionably less good than those.

There's a lot in common between the two series. Both have worlds where a highly racialised empire has enslaved incredibly powerful beings, and can only exist due to that enslavement. Both make much of the working out of deep emotional issues. Both are angry.

So it is hard to say why I like Broken Earth so much but have hardly any feelings about the Inheritance trilogy.

I have two guesses.

The first is that Broken Earth is a better story. It follows the same character for three volumes, and it progresses in scope and scale until the fundamental issues of the setting are resolved. Inheritance is three distinct books in the same setting. They succeed each other chronologically, and characters re-occur, but the point-of-view character is different in each.

The second is that Broken Earth is set on Earth, not on a fantasy elseworld. Its message is not just anti-racist or anti-imperial, but also environmentalist. Setting it here, in a future that could be our future, gives it a punch that it might otherwise lack.

Paladin's Grace, T. Kingfisher

I'm a little bit embarrassed about this one, as I know that one of the readers of this blog is particularly fond of this book.

I enjoyed Paladin's Grace a lot, but honestly don't have much to say about it. Kingfisher seems to be in her sweet spot of fantasy romance, where a disaffected and lonely manly man hooks up with an attractive (but never conventionally beautiful!) intelligent woman with a cute animal sidekick. There is nothing wrong with this combination and will continue to read the heck out of her books.

If you like Clockwork Boys or Swordheart, you'll like this book.

The Twisted Ones, T. Kingfisher

Whereas Paladin's Grace is very much in one of Kingfisher's sweet spots, this book isn't.

There is no romance, but our heroine is intelligent and has an adorable animal sidekick in the form of an old hound. It's a horror novel, set in the American South.

I think the book lacks a thematic unity. Much is made of the nasty, hoarding, deceased relative who owned the house that the protagonist is honour bound to tidy and sell, but this isn't reflected in the eerie world that haunts her.

Similarly, many times the protagonist thinks she should just burn down the house, rather than clean it up. At the end (spoilers!) the house burns down. When it does, I didn't think "Ah, such poetic resolution", I thought "Well you would have saved yourself a lot of trouble if you'd just done that the first time you thought about it".

I might be being too harsh, but ultimately I didn't enjoy this book.

The Binding, Bridget Collins

I bought this one due to an Amazon recommendation. I might have even been tricked by the Kindle title, which includes "THE #1 BESTELLER" as a subtitle.

This is a gay romance that uses a fantasy element of being able to siphon off and "bind" someone's memories as a device to enable non-linear storytelling. I say 'gay romance' not merely because the two lovers are men, but also because in this vaguely Georgian society, homosexuality is taboo, and that taboo drives the plot.

I actually liked a lot of this book, but felt it failed in two key ways.

First, when the action of the book finally takes us to the city, we finally get to see the impacts of "binding" on the world that's been built. The impact is not that interesting. It is basically a metaphor for opium.

Second, both of the characters have serious character flaws that they never work out. Most severely, the rich, urban, sophisticated one (the other is a simple farmer who is a powerful Binder, don't you know?) is deathly afraid of his corrupt, evil, bullying father, and yet never confronts him. In the end, he merely runs away.

Outside of fiction, it is often the case with abusive relationships that running away is the best victory, and if you have done just that, well done to you! It takes a lot of guts, and I certainly will not and cannot judge you.

In fiction, and in this fiction, our character is aware of his own cowardice, and is aware that he drinks too much to mask his cowardice from himself. He never resolves this within himself. Merely being united with his lover and escaping is enough to heal all wounds.

So I got to the end of the book and couldn't help but think that although it was great that they were together, that their real work as characters and as a couple lay before them and that the book as a story failed because it set that up but didn't resolve it.

Contrast this with Paladin's Grace, where the starting point is that the heroine is a fugitive of a toxic relationship. The legacy of that relationship is resolved through the course of the book, through the plot, the romance, and ultimately, the heroine's own choices and actions. I find this much more satisfying.