It took me a long time to get through this book, but not because I didn’t like it. I really loved many of the stories in this collection. Jemisin’s prose is tight, and fresh, and wonderful. She creates full-bodied characters in small spaces, and in many ways, the largest reason it took me almost a whole month to read was because I’d be so bereft at having to leave a character or environment that I love, and I simply wasn’t ready to move on to the next one. It was like experiencing book grief over and over again, which is really a testament to Jemisin’s ability to pull me in and keep me there. Jemisin’s writing successfully flows from fantasy, sci-fi, and magical realism, although I was partial to her magical realism. While the craft of all her stories was well done, the magical realism was where she truly spoke to me, so this review is really going to be about my four favorites, “L’Alchimista,” “Cuisine des Memories,” “On the Banks of the River Lex,” and “Non-Zero Probabilities.”
My whole existence revolves around a love of food, so my absolute favorite stories in this collection, not surprisingly, rotated around eating. “L’Alchimista” follows an irritated cook who’s staff at her inn can’t make a dish without burning it or ruining the flavor. No one can match her abilities and she’s bored and annoyed until a mysterious stranger shows up one day with a sack full of weird ingredients and an impossible recipe. I won’t ruin the fun for you, but suffice it to say, this story was magical. In a similar vein, “Cuisine des Memories” is about a restaurant that makes food from moments in history that absolutely encapsulates the flavor and the moment itself. On the menu are wonders such as King Edward VIII’s abdication dinner, and the final meal of Marie Antoinette. A reticent diner relives his best and worst memories through the meal he orders and is left in bereft wonderment at how it all happened. I want a whole novel about this restaurant, with each chapter devoted to have a particular diner is changed by their meal there. It was the neatest concept I’ve ever encountered.
“On the Banks of the River Lex” follows Death through the decaying city of New York after all the people have gone and the gods are left to fracture and die with no one left to worship them. Only Death is untouched since Death comes to every living thing. It’s an introspective story, quiet and well built with great characters and good dialogue. And lastly, “Non-Zero Probabilities” shows what happens when all of the world’s superstitions become real. It was a fantastic piece, and probably my second favorite in the collection.
All in all, this is a solid collection with great prose and memorable stories, many of which I wish would become novels at some point. This is my first foray into Jemisin’s work, and I’ll definitely be looking into her novels in the coming months.