I feel like I do this every time I read an N.K. Jemisin book. Part of me wants to give it five stars, but I’m going to hold off until I see where it’s going to end up. I did that with The Fifth Season, too. (And I know when I go to do my re-read, I’m going to up that book to five stars.)
I feel like every time I read one of her books, she does something that I’ve never seen before. It’s so rare when you read as many books as I do to find anything that feels new at all, but for an author to so consistently do it is kind of mind boggling. Because of that, all of her books feel a little weird, but this is definitely the weirdest one so far. It’s a little difficult to wrap your mind around the central conceit, which is designed to be a little nebulous anyway.
The main idea here is that this book takes place in a world where when a city matures (gets big enough and full of enough cultural diversity and ideas and types of people) it chooses an avatar to help it through its birth. That avatar is a person who embodies the city and works to keep it safe. The book opens just as NYC is being born, but the birth is troubled, and an Enemy is at the gates.
The actual story here and the characters were entirely captivating. I read this book so fast, much faster than I’ve read any of her others. It was so fascinating to see New York, a city I’ve never been to, embodied here in such a visceral way. The bad guys were also deeply horrifying on a gut level (and Jemisin takes a well-deserved run at Lovecraft, who was famously a bigot), and yet also when you understand what’s going on, you also get why they’re doing what they’re doing. The one thing I will say that I’m unsure about at the moment is that this is also the least subtle thing I’ve read from her so far. I trust her enough as an author to believe that was a deliberate choice, and I kind of think that it might have been impossible to be subtle in playing out this concept. The realities of race in America right now are inescapable if you are a POC (and if you aren’t!), and in such a diverse place as NYC, would be impossible to ignore. I am eager to see where she goes with all of it.
Highly recommend all of Jemisin’s stuff, but definitely worth a read for the originality alone, and if you want a smart, propulsive read. It tickles me to place a piece of urban fantasy (a looked down upon genre) that is heavily anti-racist, and goes after HP Lovecraft so hard, written by a black woman, on this square.
CBR Bingo: UnCannon