Book Review: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

Rating:  ★★★★

I read SGJ’s Mapping the Interior late last year and was very impressed.  So impressed in fact, that I went through and added just about everything he’d ever written to my TBR.  So of course I was very excited to read this.

The premise is this: ten years ago, four friends embarked on an illegal hunting trip.  They knew what they did was wrong.  They did it anyway.  Now, something evil is hunting them back.

The story started out very strong.  I heard the term literary horror for the first time last year in reference to another book, and that phrase kept popping up over and over again in my head while I was reading this.  There was symbolism, biting social commentary, the imagery and tone were perfect.

There were times in reading this I was genuinely unsure if I wanted to continue- not because the book was bad, but because it was just that dark.  I cherished every single word I read in that first fifty percent.  I cared about the characters, I cared about Lewis’s marriage.  I cared about their friendships and their pets.  If this had been a novella, and had ended after Lewis’s part, I think it would have been damn near perfect.

However, after Lewis’s part, we shift POVs.  And while I enjoyed those parts too, I think the problem was that I was already so attached to Lewis I wasn’t ready to leave him.  I do wonder if I would have enjoyed this a little more if those parts had been switched around.  I don’t think either Gabe or Cass came across as sympathetic as Lewis did, so it was difficult to become reinvested in their story lines after finishing Lewis’s.

There’s a lot of basketball in this story – so the parts of this that talked about basketball I sometimes drifted off.  I’m less than five feet tall and have always been more inclined towards mental gymnastics then physcial ones, so it’s just not my thing, though I think it was used very well here.  Basketball seemed to make up a decent chunk of the second half, so the pace felt inevitably slower, hence the 4 stars instead of 5.

This is very much a supernatural story with a very supernatural ending, so if that’s not your thing this may not be for you.  The horror aspect is brutal and visceral – so consider yourself warned.  It won’t be for everyone.

But if you think you can cope with it- I highly recommend trying this out.  I was even more impressed with this than the last SGJ book I read, and I’m eager to read his other works.

The Only Good Indians released on July 14, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads or Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for the review copy.

Have you read The Only Good Indians?  What did you think?

November: Native American Heritage Month

November is Native American Heritage Month!  I realize it’s also Sci-Fi month, and I would have loved to do a post dedicated just to Native American Science Fiction, but sadly I could only find a couple of authors, so I am broadening this to include Fantasy.

I do plan to read a couple books this month by Native American authors- and I wanted to share some of the ones on my TBR, and a couple books I’ve already read, in case anyone else is planning on checking out some Native American authors also.

Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse

Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse – This is the second book in Roanhorse’s Sixth World series.  I did struggle a bit with Trail of Lightning, there were some things I wanted explained a little better and the plot was more loose than I would have liked, but the world building and mythology were all really cool!  Maggie Hoskie is a monster hunter in a post apocalyptic world.  I would like to continue the series some time.  I do suggest everyone check out Roanhorse’s short story, Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience, which is one of the more brilliant works of short fiction I’ve read in the past couple years.

Love Beyond Body Space and Time by Hope Nicholson

Love Beyond Body, Space & Time Edited by Hope Nichols – This is an anthology about Native American two-spirit characters.  I will be honest and say I’m not sure if 100% of the stories are #ownvoices, but I believe at least one of them is.  It was put up for a couple of literary awards last year, which is how it made it on to my radar.

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline – This has also been on my radar for a year or so.  It’s a YA novel set in a future world ravaged by climate change.  Everyone with the exception of Native Americans have lost the ability to dream, and their marrow holds the cure for the non-dreamers.  Now they are being hunted down and made into unwilling marrow donors.  I think I’ve been putting it off, because it sounds really dark, but it’s fairly highly rated on GoodReads, and has won several literary awards.

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich – Another #ownvoices book about a world where babies are stillborn due to genetic deformities making them very large and difficult to birth.  The term the book used is “reverse evolution”.  We are shown the story of Cedar Hawk Songmaker as she is pregnant, and must hide it from the wider world, lest she be abducted and her (hopefully healthy) baby stolen.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t a good book for me, because the ending was largely ambiguous, which I dislike, but I wanted to share because it has the potential to be an excellent book for someone else.

Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko

Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko – This is also #ownvoices!  I have no excuse for not having read it yet, since I actually do own this one.  This is a fantasy retelling of the history of Native American people told from the POV of Native people.

Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones

Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones – Stephen Graham Jones has been popping up on my radar quite a bit with his upcoming release: The Only Good Indians (which looks amazing!).  In the meantime, I plan to read this novella about a boy haunted by the ghost of his father.

Flight by Sherman Alexie

Flight by Sherman Alexie – About a young boy of Native American heritage that is flung backward through time as he is about to commit an act of violence.  I am hoping to get to this sometime this month, along with a couple others mentioned above.

Are you planning on reading any of these?  Do you have any other Native American authors to recommend?

 

Book Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

I’ve been reading a lot of short fiction this year, and that’s been good because it’s provided some variety.  I was very much ready for a sweeping, epic tale that would take me through multiple POVs, diverse settings, drama and intrigue.  Unfortunately, that craving hasn’t quite been satisfied.

The Priory of the Orange Tree

Rating:  ★★★

Description from GoodReads: The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction—but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.  Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.

I didn’t hate this… I just wasn’t excited about it.  It started well enough.  The reader doesn’t have a ton of info dumped on them right from the start, and the urge to keep reading is strong.  By page 400 or so I was begging for the infodumps to stop.  These were so torturous and contributed so little that I started skipping them outright.  I was reminded a lot of The Raven Tower‘s affinity for: “Here is a story I have heard.”  It was too soon after reading that to then turn around and read this.  My brain was just inundated with story after story after story after another tedious story.

I get it.  Some people like that.  I’m just not one of them.  And just for the record, I had no trouble following the story without them.

The world building, as I’m sure you can imagine, is vast.  It should be when there has been that much lore imagined to back it up.  I guess my issue is, if I’m going to read about religious upheaval, I’d rather just read historical fiction.  There are few books I’ve read that feel like they encompass an entire globe, but this is one of them.  Deserts, seas, mountainous winter regions, it is comparable to Game of Thrones on that front.

That’s where the comparisons can safely stop.  The characters here are just not interesting.  At first I liked Sabran a lot, but I don’t know if that was a help to the book.  Sabran is one of the few characters without a view point.  Tane’s views are pretty useless until the last 200 pages.  I’m still not sure why Niclay’s was needed, and in listing these viewpoints I almost entirely forgot Loth.  Of the POV characters we’re given, Ead’s story is the most interesting, but again, around the halfway mark the plot just became utterly predictable and even she couldn’t save it.

The villains were cartoonish.  I didn’t even care enough about them to hate them.  I’m not a big Game of Thrones fan, but you can bet your ass I was cheering Joffrey onto his death.  It’s not my favorite way to feel about a book, but if you can’t give me sassy and fun, or interesting and complex, at least make me hate the bad guy.  The problem is, aside from one or two minor side villains- the big bad is a (minor spoiler) sleeping dragon.

In retrospect, it would have been a lot more fun if the dragon had woken up earlier.

Very general spoilers here: there are some character deaths.  I get the feeling they were supposed to make the world dark and gritty, shock the reader, but they were honestly wasted because so very little effort was put into building the relationships up between them.  People die and it seems like other characters, despite saying they cared about them, just shrug it off.  There’s no mourning time.  There’s no reflecting on it.  The saddest death in the book, the most loving relationship, happened like 10 years before this novel even takes place.  It’s just frustrating. (For the record, I enjoyed the passages about that particular relationship very much, and it was the only one that ever felt real.)

I ended up skimming the last 300 or so pages.  The climax felt like it was going to happen around the 60% mark and I found myself questioning how much content could possibly be left.  The ending was dragged out for far too long and could have been solved by better transitional scenes or fewer points of view.

One of the main reasons I picked this up was for the diverse representation and on that front it didn’t disappoint.  I felt that it was done very subtly without ever labeling any one, but giving the reader just enough to find a character they might be able to identify with.

I would recommend this to fans of slower paced novels who can appreciate the dedication to world building here.  I think lots of readers will enjoy this one, sadly, it just wasn’t for me.

I do have content warnings for this book but they are largely spoilers.  Please leave me a comment below or check out my review on GoodReads if you’d like to know what they are.

 

 

Can’t Wait Wednesday: The Deep by Rivers Solomon

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This is the first time I’ve done one of these posts.  Usually if there’s a new release I’m going to get excited about, I’m the last to know, but I’m currently working my way through all 800 pages of The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, so I figured I’d give Can’t Wait Wednesday a try.

The Deep by Rivers Solomon

Release Date: November 5, 2019

Published by: Saga Press

Length: 176 Pages

Description: Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.

Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.

Yetu will learn more than she ever expected to about her own past—and about the future of her people. If they are all to survive, they’ll need to reclaim the memories, reclaim their identity—and own who they really are.

Why I’m excited for it: The wonderful members of the Sci Fi Fantasy Book Club on GoodReads did a buddy read for Solomon’s other work, An Unkindness of Ghosts, and though I didn’t partake in that particular buddy read, the feedback overall seemed very positive.

I would like to check that one out at some point, but when I saw the description for The Deep I was enthralled by the premise.  It seems like at least some of it will be set underwater, which is one of my favorite settings for books.  The deeper you go, the less the world knows about life under the sea, so it’s always appealed to me as one of those settings where anything could happen.

It seems like it’s going to have merpeople of a sort.  I read Mira Grant’s (Seanan McGuire) Into the Drowning Deep last year and while it read like a B-movie horror flick, that’s sort of my jam, and I enjoyed the ride.  I’m fascinated by reports of the Fiji mermaid, especially those documentaries similar to Josh Gate’s expedition on Destination Truth.

But most of all it’s own voices, and it will explore the world and it’s history from a perspective we don’t get to see enough.  I’ve already planned the buddy read for release day, and I honestly can’t wait.

The Deep can be found on GoodReads here, or preordered on Amazon here.

 

Book Review: Mahimata (Asiana #2) by Rati Mehrotra

Mahimata Asiana 2 Rati Mehrotra

Rating:  ★★★

Blurb from GoodReads:  “A young female assassin must confront the man who slaughtered her family, risk her heart, and come to terms with her identity as a warrior and as a woman in this thrilling fantasy from the author of Markswoman.”

This started stronger than it finished, and I don’t think it was as good as the first book, Markswoman. I think the big issue here is that a lot of those standardized YA Fantasy tropes Mehrotra managed to avoid in book one, had a full throttle, pedal to the medal presence here.

The romance was a huge focus this time around. For the record, I hate complaining that romance exists in a book- because I actually like romance. Claire and Jamie, Edward and Elizabeth, Elizabeth and Darcy, truly, it’s a favorite theme of mine. What I don’t like, is when we spend pages and pages straight up day dreaming of the significant other. That was how this romance often felt. There are barriers to Kyra’s relationship with Rustan, but none of them ever felt all that challenging.

Another one of the things that I loved in Markswoman, was that Kyra never felt like a special snowflake to me in the first book. She made mistakes, she became an outcast, etc. Here special snowflake syndrome is alive and swinging. I can’t say much without spoilers, but every single scene felt like it was dedicated to how special, how much better/braver/stronger/smarter she was then everyone else. I did a lot of eyerolling.

Finally- this novel requires a lot of suspension of disbelief. The relationships between these people were just not believable. Kyra upends centuries of fear and tradition regarding the wyr-wolves for no other reason than that she’s the Mahimata of the Order of Kali. All the elders and other clans just sort of accept her rule. She’s enlisted to lead a significant battle, where the odds are stacked heavily against her, despite never having been in one and only being like 18/19 years old.  It just didn’t feel believable.

Despite all this, there were still parts I enjoyed. The introduction of the wyr-wolves was wonderful and probably my favorite part. The overall plot wasn’t bad, even if it was wholly unbelievable and a little generic. There were a lot of great ideas at play, the hall of mirrors, the Sahirus, the hub and transport system. It was also a very quick read- and I tend to be more forgiving of those.

The ending was both abrupt and bizarre. Nothing was really explained. Kyra and Rustan got an ending but literally no one else. This book really needed a conclusion or an epilogue of some sort to make it feel complete. I reviewed an advance copy so it’s entirely possible my copy simply didn’t have it, but I was definitely left wanting more (and not really in a good way).

I know this review overall sounds very negative, but I am giving it three stars.  On my scale, three stars could probably be described as “Neither liked it nor didn’t like it” or “Not bad”.  If you enjoyed the first book, it’s probably worth reading the second just to see how it all ends. I’ll be curious to see what Mehrotra does now that this duology is complete. Thank you to Edelweiss and Harper Collins for providing me with an eARC to review.

Mahimata can be purchased on Amazon here.

My review of book one, Markswoman, can be found on GoodReads here, if you are interested.

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

amce_am

Rating:  ★★★

Release Date: March 26, 2019

Preorder Link: A Memory Called Empire

I’m super disappointed to be giving this only three stars (no three stars isn’t bad- I’d just much rather give it four or five). I’m beginning to question whether it’s me or the books. (Disclaimer: This has been an off year for me. It might actually be me.)

I guess I’ll start at the beginning. One of the first pages said something along the lines of: “This is for all those who have ever fallen in love with a culture that was not their own.”

That one line pretty much sums up the whole book. Mahit (our MC) has spent her whole life training to be an ambassador from her home mining outpost (Lsel) to the Teixcalaani Empire. She loves everything about Teixcalaan, their language, their artwork, their holovision programs, their politics and their way of speaking. So when her opportunity to become ambassador finally comes, she’s over the moon with excitement. The only problem is- the previous ambassador is dead, and no one from Teixcalaan will talk about it.

The plot is sort of a murder mystery. I say sort of because the truth of the matter is that Yskander’s death doesn’t feel like it really has anything to do with the overall outcome. I feel like the other pieces of the plot were going to happen regardless if he had died or not.. so yeah. The more I’m thinking about it, the more the plot sort of falls apart as a whole (I mean- I guess he needed to die so Mahit could become ambassador but that’s about it.)

There are plot threads that are incomplete. I don’t want to call them cliffhangers because I didn’t feel like enough tension was built into those parts for me to feel like I’m eagerly waiting the next installment to find out what happened. To be honest- it just feels like a stand alone with threads that went nowhere or Mahit concluded were not necessary to discover.

The characters were fun. I loved the banter between Three Seagrass and Twelve Azalea. There was a tiny, tiny bit of romance in the book. I almost wished it had more of a focus because I could have totally shipped that pair. Minor romance related spoiler: The ending sort of killed that for me though… It seemed like Three Seagrass and Mahit were just going to go their separate ways which I thought was super sad. Yskander was probably my favorite character in the book although there wasn’t enough of him, and I loved Nineteen Adze. She was presented as a very powerful female character, and I think her story line, and her character, is probably the most interesting and complex in the book.

The tech and the world building were pretty cool. I liked the idea of the Sunlit (like police) being a part of the city and running on algorithms. It was very reminiscent of Leckie’s Imperial Raadch series in that way. I loved the beautiful scenery and imagery that was presented- gardens full of fountains and flowers, statues, and birds fluttering around.

There is another interesting piece concerning the language of Teixcalaan. Some words had double meanings which meant some sentences could be interpreted multiple ways. There’s also a big focus on poetry and drama and sagas told throughout the ages. Poets are very celebrated in this culture.

In the end- there is a lot to like about A Memory Called Empire, I just wish the plot structure had been tighter. I wish it had engaged me more, allowing me to solve the mystery and political intrigue along with Mahit. When I read this I was asking myself- what was the point? Why was this book written? And the answer circles back around to that first line. This is a novel about how one can love their own culture almost as much or more than they love their own and how love of that culture can sometimes make you appreciate your own that much more.

This is labeled as book one, so I’m expecting there to be a sequel (perhaps to wrap up those loose ends). I think I would give it a try. I’m hoping with the debut out of the way, and with me understanding the politics a little better, I would enjoy book two more. It would definitely help if the plot was tightened up a bit.

Thank you to the kind people at Macmillan/Tor and GoodReads who sent me this as part of a giveaway.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

blrw_mj

Rating:  ★★★

It has been said, that Tracker has a nose. Other people want Tracker to use that nose to track down missing things, husbands mostly. But then someone asks him to find a boy, but no one will give him a straight answer about why the boy is so important. What he’s wanted for and who wants him. So he gets involved because he’s curious about the truth of things.

I was so excited for this book when I heard about it, that I immediately put it on hold at my library (like 4 months prior to release).  I was first in line.  I picked it up on release day and dove right in, putting aside two other books to commit to this one.  I don’t want to say I’m disappointed- all of the elements I was excited for were there.  African mythology and folklore came in spades.  Varied settings and scenery.  Something new and something fresh.  Black Leopard, Red Wolf has all of those things.

But I don’t know if the story and conclusion I was given, was good enough to outweigh the time and effort I put into reading this to make it feel worth it.  Surely there aren’t enough books like this in the market right now, but I can’t help but think I could have waded through another two or three books with similar elements in the time it took me to read this one.

This is told a lot like a confession. Tracker frequently address the reader as Inquisitor, and it does a really great job of setting up the tone and gives the reader the sense that the book is being told to them out loud. However, I also felt like it made it put far too much emotional distance between the reader and the story itself, and in my opinion it became a detriment to the kind of story being told.

This seems like a good place to mark content warnings, so you might understand what I mean: brutal violence, violence against children, violence against women, slavery, rape, genital mutilation, and general mutilation. This is one of the most violent novels I have read in a long time. When I read Jemisin’s The Fifth Season she had exactly two scenes that I found really disturbing, both involving violence against children.  This book has significantly more and it hardly fazed me. I’m blaming the way the story is told, but I also think it has a lot to do with the way it desensitizes you (maybe that’s the point?).

When you spend 600 pages with a character- you should feel more about them than I did in the end. That’s not to say Tracker isn’t a great character. He is a great character. There were lots of great characters: the Leopard, Sadogo, and most of all Mossi. Someone could write a fascinating thesis on the psychology of Tracker, honestly. And I am really, truly frustrated that I don’t feel more about them than I think I should have. Generally if an author has great characters with great banter (as these often did) that feel human, I’m pretty sold. I don’t really care what they do, and the same was true of this book. I didn’t really care about the boy or what happened to him. In my mind he was sort of an afterthought. (Maybe that’s the problem?) And yet I got to the end and just didn’t feel the impact. I wanted to be ugly crying.  I wanted to feel Tracker’s grief.  Instead I felt a tinge of sadness and moved on.

Aside from that the book was excessively long. Like really fucking long. Like 620 pages long that felt like 1200 pages. On top of length alone it’s really dense. 40 pages chapters are not uncommon. <— This makes me insane. I’d rather you handed me a book with a hundred chapters and 1200 pages than feel like I have to sit and read 40 pages in one go. I often read on my break at work. 15 minutes is not enough time to read one chapter, so I inevitably had to put it down in the middle of something. Not even two breaks was enough to finish one chapter. Sometimes I’d turn a page and the whole page would be one long wall of text that would immediately make my heart sink. So structure was a huge issue for me.  Authors- please stop doing this to your readers.  It’s adding needless frustration.

And aside from length and density, there’s the novel itself which is pretty complex. There’s lots of characters coming and going. It isn’t always made clear who they are and what their purpose is. There are lots of little details to remember. And as if that wasn’t enough there’s tons of circular or riddle-like dialogue that makes the reader feel as if they’ve missed the context.

Other stuff I enjoyed: the scenery and the mythology. I found myself wishing I knew more about African mythology so I could connect to the text in some other way. I think readers with some knowledge of it will go crazy over this book. Every page probably holds some easter egg of information for them. The scenery was set very well (although I think could have been pared back a bit). We see grasslands and jungles, swamps, small villages, big cities. There’s a place called the Darklands which I loved and wished I’d seen more of.

Another thing I loved was the inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters. (In fact I think it was one of my favorite things.) Tracker’s examination of his own sexuality/masculinity was an ongoing theme in the book that I found super interesting. [Minor Spoiler]: And then there’s his relationship with Mossi, which has truly become one of my favorite relationships portrayed in literature.  Mossi is the peanut butter to Tracker’s jelly.  When he is introduced he is so badly needed to break up the darkness of this book.  Tracker in general is just in desperate need of a person who cares about him, and Mossi is that guy.

Just figured I’d mention this too: the hardcover edition of this book is super pretty. The paper is a little glossy. The cover is gorgeous. There are multiple maps to look at and appreciate.

In the end, I’m glad I read it, but I’d be hesitant to recommend it to anyone, and I’m hesitant to even commit to the next book. I suspect that this is a story rehashed multiple times by all the characters involved so we can see how their perceptions change things.  I don’t think the plot of this book is strong enough to support being rehashed multiple times and I don’t think the next character’s POV (it looks like it will be Sogolon) is interesting enough to make me want to read it.  It’s a neat concept- but would work better as one book that was maybe 600 pages long.  Certainly not an 1800+ page trilogy.  That said I do want to know what happens, so I’ll probably look up a summary or a spoilery review or two to piece it together.

How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin

blackfuturemonth-header

Rating:  ★★★★

In November I hit a really, really bad reading slump.  It was a combination of things, work, stress, other hobbies catching my interest (I waited eight years for Red Dead Redemption 2- I earned some game time), and of course, the holidays.   But now I’m finding it super hard to get back in the habit of reading.

I was worried a short story collection was going to be too easy to pick up and put back down (and therefore walk away from) but I shouldn’t have.  This is a truly beautiful collection of stories and I am so grateful to have read it.  (And it only took me five days- progress!) If you are a fan of Jemisin’s, or if you’ve ever been interested but haven’t taken the plunge, this is a must read.

I was iffy about The Fifth Season.  I didn’t see what people loved so much about it.  I was upset at the treatment of children in the book.  But so many people love The Broken Earth trilogy, that my feelings toward it made me question if I’d read it wrong.  The jury is still out, but I’ll definitely give it another chance.

First, I want to say that Jemisin’s creativity and skill as an author really shine in this book.  There are some running themes, but every story felt unique and different.  The characters felt distinct.  The book starts with a phenomenal and heartfelt introduction about the struggles she faced as a beginning author, so if you tend to skip intros, don’t, this one is quick and well worth reading.

It opens with: “The Ones Who Stay And Fight”, she says is a response to a LeGuin story (Omelas?). I had not read LeGuin’s story and so I don’t think I understood this one very well, and I’m having a hard time recalling any details about it now. “The City Born Great” comes next. It was a little more on the abstract side and as a story I just didn’t love it. The writing was phenomenal though.

“Red Dirt Witch” stands out as being one of my absolute favorites. Following the first two stories it really showcased her versatility as a writer because it definitely had a folk tale type feel as opposed to the frenetic, urban feel of the prior story. The ending was killer.

“L’Alchemista” was another favorite. It’s about food and love of food, and felt very rustic. It also made me super nostalgic for my mom’s cooking. Aside from that it was just really fun. “The Effluent Engine” comes next, and while an excellent story, it reminded me a lot of “The Black Gods Drums”. Nothing wrong with that- I loved the TBGD, but it maybe felt a little too familiar and I was left wanting a little something more.

“Cloud Dragon Skies” delves a little into the sci-fi realm, but the world in it evoked a lot of the same feeling that I got from reading “The Fifth Season”, an overarching threat of doom, grim tone, etc. I enjoyed this one and especially the ending. “The Trojan Girl” is also more sci-fi than fantasy, but also one of her more abstract pieces. I liked the overall message, but wasn’t crazy about the story itself. “Valedictorian” is another SF/dystopian piece that definitely has a haunting message.

“The Storyteller’s Replacement” I actually can’t recall very well, but I remember thinking that I thought it made for a good interlude in the book, which makes me think it wasn’t a very strictly structured short story. “The Brides of Heaven” is about a group of women who land on a planet that seems to be killing all the males. It’s an open ended story (which aren’t my favorite) but in this case, because the time investment wasn’t significant, I was okay with it. The feelings it evokes are definitely sort of eerie and spooky and it will stick with me for awhile.

“The Evaluators” I loved. Jemisin mentioned in the intro she enjoyed writing short stories because it gave her an opportunity to experiment and I think this piece is one of those. It’s told through a series of memos/logs and was precisely the kind of sci-fi/horror story that I love. “Walking Awake” also ventures into horror (content warnings for child trauma/violence) and wasn’t a favorite for me although again, I loved the message.

“The Elevator Dancer” is a quick story that almost felt like it could have been a spin off of Orwell’s 1984. I liked this a lot more than I liked 1984.

We shift gears back to fantasy with “Cuisine des Memoires” and it stands out as another favorite in the book. Kind of a love letter to the power food can have in our lives (or at least in our memories). I kind of also got the message that food is one of the oldest ways in the world to show you care for someone. Whether just by sharing it or by putting your heart on a plate.

“Stone Hunger” is a prelude to The Fifth Season that I actually enjoyed a lot more than the book itself. I sort of wish I’d read it first because I think I would have appreciated what came next much more.

“On the Banks of the River Lex” was very reminiscent of Gaiman’s American Gods and not in a bad way. I absolutely love the concept and love the way she portrayed Death. “The Narcomancer” was just meh for me, but I liked the ending.

“Henosis” is another experimental story told non-linearly that worked really well in short story format. The ending is another ambiguous one but I liked the format enough not to care. It also draws some interesting conclusions about celebrity in America.

“Too Many Yesterdays, Not Enough Tomorrows” is a sci-fi story with a super original concept that I thoroughly enjoyed (the title is a hint). “The You Train” is another abstract piece but again I loved the message. The Nike slogan “Just Do It” comes to mind, and I also found it super relatable because if I didn’t have a child at home, I think I’d board The You Train myself.

“Non-Zero Probabilities” was about exactly that, non-zero probabilities. It was definitely interesting, but coming at the end of so many other fantastic stories, not a standout to me. We close with “Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters”. This was a favorite, and one of the only stories that made me really care about the characters. It’s about some (fictional) odd happenings during and after Hurricane Katrina, and while that storm and it’s destruction were no joke, I found the story itself really hopeful, and the overall tone fairly light (probably gross misunderstandings on my part).

I think each story had something to offer and all of them were well worth reading. Jemisin is a master at evoking tone and feeling with her writing.  Even in the stories I didn’t love, she still managed to make me feel something, and I think that’s especially difficult to do in short stories.