Mini-Reviews: The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin and Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal

I have read too many books I have not written for reviews for yet, and I would like to be caught up, therefore I present you with some mini-reviews.

The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin:

the-obelisk-gateThis is the book I would love to write a full-length review for if a) I had the time and b) this book wasn’t due back at the library the moment I am writing this post. N. K. Jemisin is a phenomenal, fantastic writer—it’s true what everyone is saying that these are the best books she’s written yet—and it’s all to do with how much fine-tuned control she has over the story and its many converging threads, as well as the words and tone she uses to tell it. 10-year-old Nassun’s chapters are pieces of painful beauty, the way they balance her childness, her trauma, her cynicism, her self-loathing, and her bottomless pit of yearning for the adults in her life to love, and to have loved her, the way she wants them to, the way they were supposed to.

… [Nassun] never knows anything of his ultimate fate other than that she has killed him, which makes her a monster.

“Perhaps,” [he] tells her as she sobs these words. He holds her in his lap again, stroking her thick curls. “But you are my monster.”

The Obelisk Gate is a comparatively slower, steadier book than The Fifth Season, which doesn’t mean it’s stagnant. More is uncovered about the nature of orogeny, the obelisks and Alabaster’s plan, and Essun is running on borrowed time to understand all of them before the current Season leads to starvation and the end of all humanity. To use a geology analogy, the story, and Essun and the comm of Castrima and Nassun, are all subjected to heat and pressure on all sides, and the rising tension threatens to explode and obliterate everything around them. Essun has already had her world destroyed far too many times already, and now she has a choice to make whether she’s going to do something to prevent her grudgingly adopted world from suffering the same fate as well.

“No vote,” you say… “Leave. Go join Rennanis if they’ll have you. But if you stay, no part of this comm gets to decide that any other part of this comm is expendable. No voting on who gets to be people… This is a community. You will be unified. You will fight for each other. Or I will rusting kill every last one of you.

Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal:
ghost-talkers This novel posits a World War I that contains the all-important Spirit Corps, a group of mediums who channel the ghosts of recently killed soldiers in order to obtain crucial information about the battlefield to aid the British war effort. American heiress Ginger Stuyvesant is one such medium. Like her fellow Spirit Corps members, she is beyond exhausted from channeling the influx of soldiers and handling their death experiences. When a ghost passes on information that suggests a German plot to neutralize the Spirit Corps, Ginger embarks on a dangerous mission that carries her to the front lines of battle and back to uncover both the plot and a murder.

Ghost Talkers is a breeze of a novel to read, which is an odd thing to say about a book set in World War I during the Battle of the Somme. Mary Robinette Kowal’s prose is smooth and light, and the scenes are written with levity, kindness, and warmth while retaining the horror and senseless destruction of war, and the particular form of disillusionment that characterized World War I. The characters are fun, and Kowal’s cast is composed of more than white, male soldiers, such as female nurses and hospitality women, Jamaican and Indian soldiers and aides in the war effort, and elderly and disabled soldiers and civilians.

Ginger herself was fine as a protagonist, but she never felt as having more than surface-level characterization, demonstrating generic strength, determination, and fire-branded-ness that didn’t actually tell me much about who she was, or what kind of person she was before the war. Additionally the plot involved some too-convenient twists near the end and unconvincing revelations (namely why the spy was a spy to begin with). Ultimately the historical fiction and supernatural elements of the book were far more successful than the actual story, which is a shame, because the world-building was so good.

Review: Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

9780399175411_OutrunTheMoon_BOM.indd

Mercy Wong of Chinatown in San Francisco has what her fortune-telling mother calls “bossy cheeks”: she is someone who gets things done. And what she wants to do is gain entrance to the prestigious St. Clare’s School for Girls. Once she elevates her own circumstances and becomes a successful businesswoman, she plans to lift the rest of her family out of poverty, so that her father doesn’t have to work as a laundryman eighteen hours a day and Jack, her weak-lunged younger brother, won’t be condemned to follow in the family business.

St. Clare’s accepts white, wealthy students only, but this doesn’t deter her. With The Book for Business-Minded Women as her guide, Mercy wangles admission into St. Clare’s through a mixture of deal-brokering and bribery. In return for arranging for a wealthy chocolatier to expand his business into Chinatown, Mercy will be allowed to attend, posing as a Chinese heiress to deflect suspicion.

Once she’s in, Mercy faces a host of new challenges, from hostile classmates to suspicious teachers. Refusing to back down, Mercy makes friends among her fellow students (as well as enemies) and doubles down on her mission. All that ends on April 18, 1906, the day a catastrophic earthquake hits San Francisco, destroying both the school and Mercy’s home in Chinatown. Now with the girls of St. Clare’s taking refuge in a public park and dependent on the army for help, what can Mercy do, with her plan and entire life entirely upended? It’s up to her find out just how far her strength, determination, and “bossy” cheeks can take her as the city burns in the earthquake’s aftermath.

Continue reading

Review: The Body at the Tower by Y. S. Lee

the body at the tower

I reviewed A Spy in the House last October, and almost seven months later I’m here with a review of the sequel The Body at the Tower.

It’s been almost a year since the events of A Spy in the House, and Mary Quinn has been hard at work training to be a fully-fledged spy for the all-female detective agency operating under the premises of the boarding school Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls. Mary has accepted an unusual assignment, far outside the Agency’s purview: rather than taking the guise of a maid or a governess or a ladies’ companion, Mary goes undercover as a twelve-year-old boy working at construction site next to the House of Parliament. There she is charged with investigating the possible murder of one John Wick, found dead at the foot of the clock tower, off of which all evidence points he was pushed from. This job brings up many difficulties for Mary, both anticipated—the memories of her past when she used to lived on the street and her carefully-guarded secret of her Chinese, mixed-race heritage—and unanticipated, in the form of her flame, Mr. James Easton.

Continue reading

Review: Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez

out of darkness

Warning: this review thoroughly spoils the plot, especially the ending. Additionally this review discusses the portrayal of racial and sexual violence.

After I finished reading Out of Darkness, I started thinking about the different ways authors writing historical fiction construct narratives rooted in historic realities of violence and oppression. Specifically, how do authors do justice to that pain? Does there exist a point of “too much”? If so, at what point does a story reach it? Can happy endings exist in stories rooted in racial and/or sexual violence, or do they demean the real lives of those who either lived through or died from it? Alternately, does the definition of a happy ending change when writing stories about pain, suffering, and loss? Out of violent, unjustified crimes against innocent people, is there anything to salvage? Anything that has the slightest chance of creating a better world?

Continue reading

Review: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

0763640670

Seven reviews in, and this is the first review of a book published prior to 2015! This review also marks my first non-speculative fiction book featured on the blog.

A Spy in the House is a historical YA mystery set in 1850s London featuring the exploits of one Mary Quinn. Twelve-year-old Mary, a pickpocket and housebreaker, has been sentenced to be hanged by the neck until dead, but is unexpectedly saved at the last minute by a woman named Miss Trealeaven. She runs the Scrimshaw Academy for Girls, a school for women who desire to learn skills and enter professions outside those of wife and mother.

Continue reading