Book Review: Children of Blood and Bone

childrenChildren of Blood and Bone
Tomi Adeyemi
Fantasy
600 pages
Release date March 6, 2018

Have you ever reached the end of a book and yelled “NOOOOO!!!”? Because I just did. Children of Blood and Bone ends on a HUGE cliffhanger, and I’m even more upset about that than I would be normally – I got this book as an advanced reader’s copy through Goodreads. So not only do I have to wait for the sequel to come out, THIS BOOK ISN’T EVEN OUT YET. *screams internally*

That massive frustration aside, I LOVED THIS BOOK. African-inspired fantasy novels are starting to crop up, along with other non-European based fantasy, and I’m loving it. (You can find Russian inspired fantasy that I’ve read previously here and here, and Jewish/Arab fantasy here.) Adeyemi is a Nigerian-American author, and this is her debut novel. It definitely shows some hallmarks of a debut novel – the dialogue is a bit stilted in places, and it’s a little bit formulaic – but the world building is excellent.

Children of Blood and Bone is a story of oppression, and the sparks of a rebellion. I assume the rest of the trilogy will deal with the actual rebellion, but given the cliffhanger it ends on, I’m not actually sure of that. When Zélie, the main character, was very young, magic failed, and the king, who was afraid of maji, took the opportunity to kill every maji in his kingdom before they could find a way to regain their powers. Since then, every person who could have become a maji as they grew (they’re marked by their white hair) has been treated as a second-class citizen. They’re forced into slums, used as slave labor, kicked around by nobility and guards, made to pay higher taxes, and forbidden to breed with the other classes. They don’t have magic – and they have no way to get it – but they’re treated as trash by the king that hates them, and accordingly by the rest of his subjects.

At the beginning of the book, a magical artifact resurfaces that restores magic to any diviner (potential maji) that touches it. This, of course, is not okay with the king, and most of the book is about the race to use the magical artifact while being chased by the king’s son and his guards who are trying to destroy it. The conflicted prince has secrets of his own, though, and as the book weaves through jungles, mountains, and seas, he wavers in his mission.

It’s always difficult to review books without giving too much away about the plot, so I won’t say much more about the events. I really enjoyed that they rode giant cats – leopanaires. Zélie and her allies ride a lion leopanaire, which is apparently somewhat unusual. Most of the guards ride leopards or cheetahs, while the royal family rides snow leopanaires. The magic is unique, the gods and religion are beautifully fleshed out, and overall I just really loved this world, and I’m very sad it will be so long before I can dive back into it.

This is also my “Book published in 2018” for the Popsugar Reading Challenge.

From the cover of Children of Blood and Bone:

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leopanaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers – and her growing feelings for an enemy.

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Book Review: The Invention of Wings

Sue Monk Kidd The Invention of WingsThe Invention of Wings
Sue Monk Kidd
Historical Fiction
369 pages
Published 2014

The Invention of Wings is one of my PopSugar Reading Challenge books, for the prompt “A Book from a Celebrity Book Club.” It was Oprah’s 3rd pick for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0. Oprah interviewed Sue Monk Kidd in the January 2014 issue of O Magazine.

I can definitely see why Oprah was so affected by this book; the two main characters are Sarah Grimké, an early abolitionist and women’s rights activist, and Hetty Handful, the slave gifted to her by her mother when she turned 11. In an afterword, Kidd explains that she did try to stay mostly historically accurate, and Handful was gifted to Sarah when she was 11, though she apparently died not long after. In Kidd’s book, however, Handful survives. Sarah and her younger sister, Angelina, were real people, and really did most of what is ascribed to them in the book, though Kidd passes a couple of their deeds from one sister to the other. The Grimkés were from Charleston, South Carolina, and born into an aristocratic, slave-owning family headed by a prestigious judge. Their abolitionist actions get them exiled from Charleston and from their church. Meanwhile, Hetty, her ownership having returned to Sarah’s mother, dreams of freedom and plots rebellions of her own.

I was a little wary going into this book; I’ve read a couple of Oprah’s picks before, and generally found them dry and uninteresting. This one, though, was very well written. The voices of both women came through clearly, as did some of the brutality of slavery. Kidd also wrote The Secret Life of Bees, which got a lot of attention. If it’s anything like this, I might have to finally read that as well.

(I know the author is white, but I thought, being about slavery and abolition, it would still qualify for Black History Month.)

From the cover of The Invention of Wings:

A triumphant story about the quest for freedom and empowerment, Sue Monk Kidd’s third novel presents the extraordinary journeys of two unforgettable women: Hetty “Handful” Grimké, an urban slave in early-nineteenth century Charleston, and Sarah, the Grimkés’ idealistic daughter. 

Inspired in part by the historic figure of abolitionist and suffragette Sarah Grimké, Kidd’s novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten-year-old Handful. The Invention of Wings follows these two women over the next thirty-five years as both strive for lives of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement, and the uneasy ways of love.

 

Book Review: Turtles All The Way Down

turtlesTurtles All The Way Down
John Green
Young Adult Fiction
298 pages
Published October 2017

So what the cover description of this book doesn’t explicitly mention is that Aza, the main character, has a pretty severe anxiety disorder. That’s really the core topic of the book – her thought spirals and dealing with life while caught in them. I trust John Green to write about these because he also suffers from severe anxiety. He’s talked about it in interviews and his vlogbrothers Youtube channel. (I’m a big Green brothers fan – what’s known as a nerdfighter.) So when John Green writes a character with anxiety, I believe that it’s a realistic portrayal. I loved the integration of technology in the story – two characters don’t just text each other, the text conversation is on the page, formatted differently, so it’s obvious these are text messages. I always love books that do that.

There’s not a whole lot I can say about the book without giving things away; a lot of John Green’s characters tend to wax eloquently about philosophy and things outside themselves, and Aza doesn’t do that because she’s so trapped within her own thoughts. She can’t think of the future or existential dread because she’s too worried about the microbes in her stomach getting out of control and giving her diseases. Definitely a departure from his usual story, though it does fit his standard MO of Main character meets other character who profoundly changes main character’s life in some way. (There’s a third part that is also consistent with most of John Green’s novels but it’s a spoiler.)

I think the book is a really good book for anyone who loves someone with anxiety. Or even for those who have anxiety themselves, to see that they’re not alone.

From the cover of Turtles All The Way Down:

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.
   
Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts. 
 
In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.

Book Review: Kindred

kindredKindred
Octavia Butler
Historical Fiction
306 pages
Published 2004

I’m not really sure where to start with this book. It’s in that category of “classics that everyone should read” and having finally read it, I agree. It’s really, really, really good. It’s a hard read at times – it takes you right into the antebellum south and the heart of slavery. It’s actually set in Maryland, which is a little jarring for me – in today’s political climate, Maryland isn’t really considered part of “the south” – it’s far more liberal than most of the south. A blue state, where those are all red. But it WAS a slave state. It is below the Mason-Dixon line, and reading the wiki, slavery was actually legal here longer than it was in the south. (Mostly because the Emancipation Proclamation only covered the Confederate States, not the slave-holding Union states of Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri, and Maryland. That’s screwed up. You can’t have slaves, but it’s totally cool that the people that fought for us still keep them?)

So Kindred is set mostly in pre-Civil War Maryland, with a few scenes in modern-day California. The mystery of how Dana time-travels is never explained – but it doesn’t really need to be. That’s not the point of the story. The point of the story is a modern-day black woman transplanted to the antebellum south and learning to understand slavery in a very intimate manner. Dana mentions a couple of times how easy it is to forget that she has another life – that’s she’s a free black woman from the future – because the way they keep slaves in line doesn’t give you time to think past the present. You work too hard to think of the future, and if you don’t, all you can think about is the pain from your punishment for not working hard enough.

The book is a very visceral portrayal of a somewhat pampered slave’s life – she’s not a field hand, her masters are what passes for “kind.” Dana’s fellow slaves live in fear of being sold down south to Mississippi – they know Maryland is better. As hard as some of the scenes are to read, the book explicitly says it could be harder.

The conflict Dana feels between rescuing her white, slave-owning ancestor again and again, and standing back and letting nature take its course (but dooming herself) is one of the central points of the book. It’s a moral quandary that she never really answers.

Ultimately, there’s no way to do this book justice in a review. I think it should be required high school reading. More than that, I think it should be required reading for white people. And if you haven’t read it yet, you should. I knew on an intellectual level what slaves went through – but this book doesn’t look at it from a distance. It doesn’t divorce the reader from the violence. It puts the reader right there in the dirt of the yard with the whip exploding across Dana’s back.

I think it took me so long to get around to this book because it IS a classic. And so many classics I was forced to read in school were boring and dry and hard to read. I’m starting to find that some are classics because they’re just that good. Good and necessary and written about critically important topics. Kindred is one of them.

From the cover of Kindred:

Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.

Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale

thebearThe Bear and the Nightingale
Katherine Arden
Fairy-tale Retelling
330 pages
Published 2017

So I finally got around to reading this one – people have been raving about it all year long. And honestly – I don’t see what the fuss is about. It’s good, sure. But it’s not Girls Made of Snow and Glass, or The Crown’s Game, or Uprooted. It’s not The Golem and the Jinni. I enjoyed it, but I think the hype is a little undeserved. I am, however, always a sucker for Russian-themed fairytales. (Probably why I liked The Crown’s Game and The Crown’s Fate so much.) And I am looking forward to the sequel, The Girl in the Tower, which just came out. (I have a hold requested on it from my library.) The third book in the Winternight Trilogy appears to be The Winter of the Witch, and is scheduled to be published in August.

The Bear and the Nightingale is set in Rus – a Russia-like country, but with magic, of course. Vasilisa/Vasya is a granddaughter of a witch, and has some abilities herself. Mostly just the ability to see things that other can’t, and to talk to them. Through the course of the book, she avoids an arranged marriage, saves a priest, fights a priest, and tries like hell to save her village from the demons of winter. I loved her tenacity, and her love for the old spirits. The description of The Winter King and his home was absolutely enchanting. Overall a good book, but a bit overhyped.

From the cover of The Bear and the Nightingale:

Winter lasts most of the year at the edge of the Russian wilderness, and in the long nights, Vasilisa and her siblings love to gather by the fire to listen to their nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, Vasya loves the story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon. Wise Russians fear him, for he claims unwary souls, and they honor the spirits that protect their homes from evil.
 
Then Vasya’s widowed father brings home a new wife from Moscow. Fiercely devout, Vasya’s stepmother forbids her family from honoring their household spirits, but Vasya fears what this may bring. And indeed, misfortune begins to stalk the village. 
 
But Vasya’s stepmother only grows harsher, determined to remake the village to her liking and to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for marriage or a convent. As the village’s defenses weaken and evil from the forest creeps nearer, Vasilisa must call upon dangerous gifts she has long concealed—to protect her family from a threat sprung to life from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

Book Review: The Power

thepowerThe Power
Naomi Alderman
Dystopia
416 pages
Published October 2017

Holy shit. I sat and stared at my Kindle for several minutes after finishing this book. The Power belongs on the same shelf as The Handmaid’s Tale and American War. It’s just amazing. The book begins in our world – but then takes a twist sideways. Teenage girls start manifesting an electrical power. They can zap people, with varying degrees of strength. It can be a pleasing, arousing tingle, or a warning jolt, or a breath-stealing, heart-stopping (literally) bolt. They soon discover that older women can also manifest the ability, but it has to be kick-started by a jolt from someone who already has it. (Even later in the book it’s revealed that there’s actually a muscle – they call it the skein – that controls the electricity, and women have, in the last twenty years or so, evolved to have that muscle.)

The book revolves between the points of view of a few different women and one man. The man is a journalist reporting on the emergence of the new power, while the women are prominent figures in the new world order that is emerging. Allie – Eve – becomes the leader of a new religion, Roxy is the daughter of a crime syndicate boss, and Margot is a mayor climbing the political ranks. Margot’s daughter also gets a few chapters.

It’s been pointed out that perhaps men are afraid of women having equal rights because they can’t picture a world in which powerful women don’t treat men the way powerful men have always treated women. They can only imagine men and women interacting as oppressors and oppressed, not as equals. Whereas feminism wants a world where we are truly equals. The Power imagines a world where women do become the oppressors, and men are forced into the feminine role. This is enforced by the framework the novel is told in – the novel itself is bracketed by letters between the “author,” presenting his historical novel, and a woman supposedly editing his work. Through the letters, you discover the novel is a slightly embellished history of their world, with about five thousand years between the events of the novel and the time of the letters. In the tone of the letters, you see the stereotypes switched – the man is apologetic and unsure while the woman is authoritative, patronizing, and a little bit sexist. “Oh, you silly boy, imagining a world where men were dominant! What a naughty idea! Don’t you think men as soldiers is preposterous? Men are homemakers, women are the aggressive ones!” I think, if feminism achieves its goals through legislation, we will find true equality. If something like this were to happen – a drastic change, giving women a physical way to dominate suddenly, the outcome might indeed be more like the novel. Enough women have been traumatized that they’ll want – need – to avenge themselves, and violent upheaval will result.

By the last third of the novel, we see powerful women and societies acting just the same as powerful men always have – I’d like to think we’d have learned from the men’s mistakes, but humans are only human. Perhaps this is more realistic.

The book is NOT for the faint of heart. There are graphic rape, abuse, and violence scenes. They’re not gratuitous – they serve the author’s point – but they are still disturbing, as those scenes should be.

I’ll be thinking about this book for a while. It’s excellent, and I highly recommend it, if you can handle the dark themes.

From the cover of The Power:

In THE POWER, the world is a recognizable place: there’s a rich Nigerian boy who lounges around the family pool; a foster kid whose religious parents hide their true nature; an ambitious American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But then a vital new force takes root and flourishes, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power–they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world drastically resets.

From award-winning author Naomi Alderman, THE POWER is speculative fiction at its most ambitious and provocative, at once taking us on a thrilling journey to an alternate reality, and exposing our own world in bold and surprising ways.