The Genesis of Misery is not a queer retelling of Joan of Arc in space, but it also kind of is (…innn sppaaaaace). Let’s review a few things about the Patron Saint of France: during the 100 Years War (1337 – 1453), Joan was a peasant teen-aged girl who had visions and heard voices which she believed were divine. She led the French to victories against the English. But after some losses, she was captured by the English, tried for heresy, and executed by being burned at the stake. Her class and gender made her an improbable military leader, and also made her easy to abandon by her allies. I probably missed ways in which The Genesis of Misery uses elements of the Joan of Arc story, and how it differs.
We know as soon as we meet Misery Nomaki (she/they) that everything we are about to read has already happened. The bulk of the story is told from Misery’s perspective via an omniscient narrator. We get Misery’s unfiltered truth, but the framing allows us to know from the outset that there is more than what Misery knows happening. Yang is playing with a lot of things, most notably – the chosen one. We know Misery is the chosen one and she is guided by something only she can see and hear. Misery struggles with that idea and assumes it is a delusion at first. They are torn between skepticism and faith. What’s unclear is what exactly has chosen Misery and for what purpose. Misery is the chosen one and the protagonist, but not a hero.
I don’t want to reveal too much, so I will say Misery is a fascinating character – profane and calculating, a grifter who becomes a fanatic. For all the the narrator kept me at a certain distance, the story is engrossing and heartbreaking. One of the things that occurs to me as I write this – I never gave a single thought to whether or not Misery is likable while I read. I don’t think their likability is ever supposed to be considered.
Rebecca Roanhorse compared this to Gideon the Ninth, and I think that’s a good comparison. This is a world that unfolds over the book so that even at the last page I was still putting pieces together. The explosive mix of politics and religion is central to the story. There are machinations happening inside of machinations and the people who think they are the chess grandmasters are really pawns. It’s also bananapants and full of mecha space battles, star crossed lovers, a space princess (the luminous Lady Alodia Lightning), conspiracy and betrayal.
I think this is the start of a trilogy (please). Like [redacted], I am left with more questions than answers. And I want more time in and with this universe.
CW: war, battles, mass murder, injury, body horror, imprisonment, religion, death of parent, illness, grief.
I received this as an advance reader copy from Tor Books and NetGalley. My opinions are my own, freely and honestly given.