The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

This was my second attempt at reading this book. I picked it up not long after it was first published, because I have read previous books by N.K. Jemisin (The Inheritance Trilogy, The Deamblood Duology). I really liked The Inheritance Trilogy, but I couldn’t finish the first book of The Dreamblood Duology. So, I was skeptical about The Fifth Season. I had read the sample, and decided it wasn’t really for me. As time went by, and the book racked up all kinds of praise and awards, so I decided to give it another try. I can definitely see why it has received the praise and awards that it has. For me, I liked it. Mostly. Well, maybe more than mostly. I’m still a bit unsettled in my opinion.

Its hard to talk about the book without spoiling it, so this will be a pretty brief review. There are three points of view (POV)- Damaya, Syenite, and Essun. Essun’s POV is told in the second person narrative, which is what put me off the first time I tried to read this book. I don’t like second person narratives,  (although you don’t see them very often) and I will reluctantly read first person narratives. I think the story of Essun was told beautifully, but I found myself more interested in the stories of Damaya and Syenite, which are told in the third person. That’s my own bias clouding my judgment, of course. The story as a whole was compelling enough for me to want to get to the end, so I did. And I’m glad I did.

The story takes places in what seems to be Earth in the far future. There is one supercontinent referred to as the Stillness. There are different castes, and everyone belongs to a caste. The orogenes are those who can manipulate the earth and weather around them by taking in the earth’s energy. The orogenes are feared and reviled. Some are killed on sight, others are kidnapped or sold by their families to the Fulcrum, which trains and controls the orogenes. So of course, our protagonists are all orogenes.

Essun is on the search for her husband, who killed their son and kidnapped their daughter. Damaya is a child who is discovered to be an orogene, and is sold to the Fulcrum by her family. Syenite is an orogene at the Fulcrum. The best part of the book is discovering how the stories of these three women relate. This is also a story of being “other”- and being controlled, ridiculed and denied your humanity because of it.

I did have a hard time relating to the world. There is not a lot of exposition, so you are left to discover the world on your own though the actions and dialogue of the characters. I like a little more exposition that what is offered here, but I do realize that too much exposition can become clunky and can take you out of the story. By the end I knew enough to get what was going on, but I wish I had more background. This wouldn’t make sense from Essun’s POV since its in the second person, but I think Syenite’s POV could have been the place to add that.

I didn’t really take to the magic system. I may be more of a traditionalist when it comes to magic, but I appreciate the uniqueness of the system here, and how it fits into this world. The world has had such catastrophic natural events, and continues to go through devastating natural disasters every hundred years or so. It makes sense that any magic within this world would be tied to the earth.

This review is a little all over the place, because I’m a little all over the place with this book! However, I will read the second book in the series, The Obelisk Gate, to see if I can get more settled in the world. I definitely would recommend giving the book a try. It is written beautifully, as I would expect from N.K. Jemisin.

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The Dark Tower- The Gunslinger by Stephen King

This is the third Stephen King book I’ve read. The other two were The Eye of the Dragon and 11/22/63. Not a part of his horror collection, but I thought they were good.  Unfortunately I watched the CBS television adaptation of Under the Dome, rather than reading the book. Boy, those are hours of my life I can’t get back!

Anyway, I of course have known about the Dark Tower series for awhile, long before there was talk of movies and tv show adaptations. The idea of a “gunslinger” had me thinking westerns. Westerns do not interest me in the least. But, the more I heard about the series being this great magnum opus for Stephen King, and with the not so favorable reviews of the movie, I thought, maybe now is a good time to try it. Well…

I was confused. Well, maybe confused isn’t quite right. Befuddled might be a better word. The writing style is all over the place. The jargon of the gunslinger changes constantly, and parts of the story were told in flashbacks within flashbacks, then in the present. Its been a few days since I finished it, and I’m less befuddled than I was while reading it, but it was a bit of a jumbled mess. However, if you stick through to the end, things do start to become more clear. The gunslinger is chasing the man in black, then finds out he has to go to the Dark Tower. Why does he have to go to the Dark Tower? I have no idea.  (I’m sure this was explained in the book, but it just didn’t stick in my head). But it appears to be quite important. In case the title of the series didn’t clue you in.

I know it sounds like I disliked this book. I didn’t dislike it, it just left me feeling…unfinished. Which doesn’t totally work for a first book in a series. I need more clarity on the mission of the gunslinger. (Who’s name is Roland Deschain, by the way).

This isn’t much of a review, due to my lingering befuddlement, but there was enough here to make me want to see it through to the end. But the ending wasn’t enough. It didn’t end. It just stopped. Now, I feel that I need to start the second book to finally be able to figure out what’s going on. Then I can actually decide if this is a series I want to continue. Crazy, but in a curious way!

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The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams

Warning! This review makes reference to events from Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. These events may be considered spoilers for that series.

Well, it feels good to be back in Osten Ard! The Witchwood Crown takes place thirty years after the events in Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. Simon and Miriamele are still on the throne. Some of our old favorites are back, including Count Eolair, Binabik, Tiamak and others.  Once again, as is usually the case, there is a rising threat from the Norns, and possibly from other sources.

Without giving too much away, the story seemed to have an air of impending doom. I kept thinking that at some point,Simon, Miriamele, or others may die. Obviously, I won’t give anything away, but there was a sense that anything bad could happen at any moment. That could be influenced by the stories I have read since Memory, Sorrow and Thorn was first published. Nonetheless, it brought a nice tension to the story. I wanted this story to be an introduction to the next generation- a passing of the torch. Simon and Miriamele are still the main characters, and I am anticipating that the next book will have the next generation closer to front and center.

We say goodbye to some old characters, and are introduced to some new ones. The politics of the world have expanded. I look forward to spending more time in Nabban and amongst the Thrithings folk. Their stories are featured more prominently and expands the world much more than in the original trilogy. We get to see more of the politics of the world and all of its complexities. It feels like a more sophisticated and complicated Often Ard. That’s a good thing. We get to spend more time with the Norns, too. If you read The Heart of What Was Lost, you will recognize some of the Norn characters. These people can really hold a grudge!

And, for those who were wondering, the fate of Josua, Vorsheva and their children is explored in this book. I was able to correctly guess some things, but not others. The reveal was very well done and absolutely worth the wait.

One thing I did have trouble with were the actions and decision making of Simon and Miriamele. I didn’t think some of their decisions really made sense, and they only made those decisions in order to move certain characters around in preparation for the main story arc. Miriamele in particular seemed harsh, and Simon didn’t seem to have matured into his role as king.

The story has some surprises, mystery and betrayal. All of the ingredients for a masterful  trilogy.

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The Faithful and the Fallen Series by John Gwynne

The first book in this series, Malice, had been on my “to read” list for at least a couple years. I think I even read the sample twice during that time. Since the fourth and final book in the series was published last year, I figured I should go ahead and give it a try. I’m glad I did.

This is a four book fantasy series set not in your typical medieval European type setting, but probably in a time before that. No knights in armor (I don’t think the word “knight” is used once) but nations with war bands and short swords. Archers are mainly used as hunters, and battles are basically one big melee, and whoever has the most people standing at the end wins. Nations/regions ruled by kings, but loosely and informally tied together under a “high king”. The high king doesn’t have much or any real power. There are also angel and demon like beings, ancient artifacts of immense power and a little bit of magic thrown in. The setting is very reminiscent of Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, or The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell.

Anyway, the four books in the series are:

  1. Malice
  2. Valor
  3. Ruin
  4. Wrath

The story turns the “farm boy who is really a king/savior” trope on its head. Yes there is a farm boy type protagonist, and yes he has a “destiny”, but it doesn’t play out the way you might expect. There’s also a prince who believes he has a “destiny” as well, and that has an interesting twist, too. There are several point of view characters, each chapter dedicated to one viewpoint. The very basic premise is that the “bad” guys are trying to bring there leader back from the Otherworld, so that he can reign over our world full of humans. The “good” guys, of course, are trying to stop him. There are a group of ancient artifacts needed to bring the evil leader to our world, so there is a search for those as well. There are giants, giant bears, giant wolves and talking ravens and crows! I’m being very simplistic with this plot description because anymore detail will give away some of the twists to the tropes.

The writing in the first book was a little rough. Characters were doing a lot of grunting and snorting. In the next book, Valor, that was largely absent. Really, the grunting happened often enough to where it became distracting.  Like the skirt smoothing in the Wheel of Time series (which I do recommend, by the way.)

There is a strong emphasize on friendships. There are romances, but the focus is on the non-romantic bonds formed between the characters. The romances are pretty basic, there’s enough there to make you believe them and root for them, but the outcome of the story does not hinge on the romantic involvement of any two characters. The romance informs the decisions that some of the characters make, and it has its consequences, but it doesn’t seem forced or ham-fisted.

It was nice to have points of view from both sides of the conflict. It gives you a sense of the reason why people are making the decisions they are making. Very often the evil characters are evil just because they are evil.  It also shows how sometimes “good” and “bad” just depends on where you’re standing.

The story was very compelling. I cared about the characters and what happened to them. I was sad when characters died, and cheered when they came out on top. As with many of today’s fantasy novels, main characters die- some tragically, some heroically. The ending is bittersweet, but definitely satisfying.

I did have a couple of quibbles. Some of the characters that needed to die, took an awful long time to die. Its the evil character that seems to be immortal. No matter how many times they are stabbed, ambushed, or seem to be in an impossible situation, they manage to escape. That frustrated me a bit. While the ancient artifacts were clearly important, we only knew the purpose or power of some of them. The others didn’t seem to have a power or function. It could’ve been that the knowledge was lost, but it was never brought up.

It doesn’t appear that there will be anymore stories with these characters, but I wouldn’t mind a follow up story where we catch up with theses characters several years later. There are definitely more stories to tell.

 

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12 Monkeys, Season 3

Well, SyFy really wanted to mess with us didn’t they? The whole season in one weekend? I’m still not sure how I feel about that. It was nice to binge it, but I would rather binge in my own time and in my own way. So now the wait for season 4 (the final season) is going to feel twice as long. Anyway, these are my thoughts on season 3. This is a general overview, not an episode by episode recap. Therefore, spoilers for all of season 3 are ahead.I’m going to try to go in order here, but I may end up skipping around. So many thoughts!

Lets’ start with the first 4 episodes that aired Friday, May 19th. It was a nice arc, since it ended with Cole and Cassie reuniting and the death of Ramse. The introduction of the personal splinter machines really turned things on its head. Being able to splinter when you need to and reset the timeline when something goes wrong is a powerful tool. If the Witness is threatened, then you just splinter and reset the timeline. “Raise the Witness in the chaos of history” indeed. That has got to mess with a person, regardless of whether you are destined to destroy the world.

Cole meeting future Cole was a surprise. Future Cole was much lighter than Present Day Cole. Future Cole seemed to be at peace with what had happened. At least that was what he tried to convey to Present Day Cole. When Cassie stepped out (another surprise!), she said that Future Cole lied. What’s that about? Why did he lie? To protect the timeline? I thought it was a nice touch that this took place at the Emerson Hotel. Its there home base in every timeline. I also liked that Cole and Cassie were reunited by the end of episode 4.  It didn’t feel rushed, and it didn’t drag on too long.

Jennifer Goines is awesome. Her adventures in WWI and Paris were some of the best parts of season 3. If you hadn’t already, you really begin to feel sorry for her. She’s trapped in 1917, and has to make a way for herself for years until they find her. She tries so hard to leave clues with no results. Her one woman shows were brilliant! When Cole and Jones finally find her, they don’t even care about what she’s been through. She’s just another tool, not a real person who’s a member of the team. I was glad that when the timeline was reset, Cole treated her with the respect she deserved. Go Jennifer!

There were only 4 guardians assigned to protect the Witness. The 12 Monkeys didn’t seem to have a plan for how to replace a guardian who dies. Maybe they thought it wouldn’t matter because they could always reset the timeline? It would seem that you would do that sparingly, and only when it was absolutely necessary to save the Witness.

Ramse and Olivia, together again! You always know that Olivia is up to something. Why would you ever trust her? Jennifer was right- she is always exactly where she wants to be. 23 years she had Sam?! My first thought was that Sam himself was important, but it was really a way to get Ramse where he needed to be, which would in turn get Olivia where she needed to be- at the laboratory. Such an elaborate plan, but it worked. The key to getting Ramse to do what you want is through his son that he knew for like, 2 days. What was interesting about Olivia in this season was that she was much more animated, and less stoic. We see some emotion from her, which I’m sure was all calculated on her part. Her torture scene was a bit too much for me, but it shows how cold Jones and Olivia have become. Jones, even after getting Hannah back, still is completely single minded in destroying the witness, and so is Olivia. Both will do anything, suffer anything, and sacrifice anything to achieve that goal. Has all of this happened before? Olivia knew about Cole and Cassie’s child, and told Ramse, knowing that he would be willing to kill Cassie, so the witness will never be born.

Goodbye, Ramse. Now we don’t have to watch you make bad decision after bad decision, all for a son you barely know. But with all the time travel, will we see him again? Also, why did he never take his gloves off? Even when he was at the hotel with Cole in 2007, he was drinking and still had his gloves on. That annoyed me.

Night 2 was only three episodes. That was a good thing because there was way too much plot to process with 4 episodes. I know I am skipping over a lot of stuff, but these are things that stood out to me…some are important, others not so much. I wonder if it would have been better for Cassie and Cole to just tell everyone who the Witness was. Olivia was able to figure it out, according to her, and Deacon probably would’ve gotten there eventually. (Oh, and can I just say that I’m glad Deacon survived? Its like he’s the truth teller for the series. I  know he wants to have a purpose. So far its been to get Cassie out of Titan. Hopefully, he can play a bigger role next season.) Jones may have still wanted to kill the Witness, but she may have been more amenable to finding another way. I think Jones was hurt that they didn’t tell her. They didn’t trust her, so that made Cassie and Cole the enemy too.

The heist in 1989 was all kinds of wonderful. Little Jennifer is just as awesome as grown up Jennifer. Jennifer is officially a part of the team. About time! And I also love how Deacon is like the Jennifer Whisperer. He gets such a kick out of watching her go. I like how he tries to watch out for her. Glad to see Terry the Tortoise! And Gale! Nice to see him contribute more to the team. But telling him he will die in 1961, wow.  That was pretty brutal. He was already having a hard time, that just made things worse for him, I think. But as usual, he pulls through for them. Hope Valley, 1953. Whoa. That poor kid. He’s a primary, and he’s surrounded by crazy people. Was he born to be the Witness, or was he made to be the Witness? I also wonder if the lady the Witness drew was really Cassie, but the Witness intentionally pointed to the other woman instead. Had the Witness (lets call him Athan, the name Cassie gave him) had visions of his mother and father yet? I get the feeling that even at that age, he knew who they were. I do like how Athan has always been one of the voices in Jennifer’s head. He is primary after all. I believe in season 2 it was established that the primaries throughout time all can hear each other.  That is the source of the voices in their heads- the other primaries throughout time. Cool. Jones and the crew find out the identity of the Witness, and now the team have become enemies. Let time jumping games begin!

Night 3, is the final act. Cassie and Cole are splintering through time, looking for Athan, while Jones and drew chases them through time. Jones and crew is using Jennifer’s drawings to find Cassie and Cole, but of course Jennifer is also trying to protect them. Jennifer will always be Team Cole. So the last guardian encourages Athan to write the Word of the Witness, and then soon after Athan leaves to splinter himself through time. He says that this helped him to stay sane. Until of course, he falls in love and tries 607 times to save the woman he loves. Which, apparently, after failed attempt number 607, he decides that he is going to be the Evil Witness after all, and set about destroying time/the world. Because of course that’s what happens! Love makes you crazy. Or, at least the loss of it does. We get a masquerade ball, where Jones and crew catch up with Cassie and Cole. Of course, Jennifer saves the day! with fireworks!

The theme of this season seems to be of fate and destiny. Can you choose your fate? How powerful is destiny? Will time let you change your destiny? Interesting how the Witness thinks he is a primary “or some variation thereof”. What does that mean??

And Jennifer of course gets herself out of the cage so she can play her part in saving the “dying man” from her drawings. Who just happens to be the Witness. And of course, Olivia reaches the culmination of her plan, and is able to splinter to Titan, using the coordinates she received back when she took Ramse to see his grownup son. So many callbacks and pieces to the puzzle.

Cassie and Cole catchup with the witness and take him back to the house of cedar and pine. And of course, they tell him when they are, and he passes that information along to Olivia, who then uses it to help Jones and crew find them, and then everything goes haywire. Titan! Olivia! Cole and Cassie were too willing to give Athan the benefit of the  doubt. When someone shows you who they are, believe them! “My family have come for me.”

So, all this stuff about Olivia really being the Witness is problematic for me. We’ve spent a whole season trying to save the Witness who is really not the Witness? And why is Olivia the Witness? Athan says that insuring his birth insured Olivia’s. The Witness is timeless, the deceiver. But even Olivia sys that she hasn’t done those things yet. He witnessed, but is not The Witness. huh? I feel like I need to rewatch seasons 1 and 2 so I can understand Olivia better. There should be some clues in there.

So now we start a new cycle for the fourth and final season. We’ve got a new map of symbols, with Jennifer being the key to deciphering them. The serpent eating its own tail. The new symbol for next season. And Cole’s mother!! I knew she had to play some role. It was always weird that we never even saw her. Cole’s dad was adamant about protecting him, and he was always a little to accepting of this whole time traveling business,. He was emotional, but pretty calm when he met his adult son in season 1. What did he know? Who is Cole’s mother? What is Cole’s mother?! It looks like mommy issues will be a theme in season 4. And finally, has anyone ever explained where the name “12 Monkeys” came from?

And for all you Wheel of Time fans out there, in the letter Cole’s mom wrote him, she talked of the serpent eating its own tail. Is Cole’s mother an Aes Sedai!?

Is it 2018 yet?

Quick Update on Reading Round Up

A couple months ago, I posted the books I planned on reading in the first part of 2017. Well, its been slow, to say the least. I’ve been reading, but I only managed to read one of the books I listed, and that was Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I’m not giving a full review here, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I had some minor quibbles with some of the time jumps, and going back to explain how a character ended up in a certain situation (not a device I am particularly fond of), but it did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the story. I was very invested in Ifemelu’s story. It’s an immigrant’s story, and a perspective that we don’t often see- that of a black African navigating race relations in the United States. Ifemelu’s perspective and how she and other Africans, particularly Nigerians, view race compared to African Americans, was something I personally had always thought about, and I enjoyed seeing that perspective fleshed out. It’s also a love story, so the separation of Ifemelu and Obinze, and the clash of cultures they both experience, are woven together very well.

I’m still anxious to read The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. I’m getting that one from the library, and there’s a huge waiting list!

I’m up in the air about The City by Stella Gemmell. I’m not sure why, but hopefully I will get to it.

Of course, The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams will be released on June 27. The world will stop for me on that date!

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin was also on the list. For some reason I’m afraid to start this one. I enjoyed The Inheritance Trilogy, but her subsequents books really didn’t grab me. I hope to eventually give this one a try.

I just finished Red Rising by Pierce Brown. I hope to review that trilogy soon. Also, I am interesting in reading a new book, The Empire’s Ghost by Isabelle Steiger. I’d like to review this one as well.

Are you meeting your 2017 reading goals?

 

 

My Top 5 (or so) Sci-Fi/Fi Fantasy Series

This is in no particular order, although I will say that A Song of Ice and Fire is number one, with The Chronicles of Narnia as a very close number two. (Talk about polar opposites!)

  1. A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin I’ve been reading this series since almost day one. I began A Game of Thrones when it was in paperback, just before A Clash of Kings was published. Re-reading and discussing theories with other fans was a new and wonderful experience for me. I was fortunate enough to be a part of the fan community back then, and even got to meet and hang out with George a tiny bit. A great life experience that I’ll never forget! Waiting patiently for The Winds of Winter
  2. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan This is an interesting one because it introduced me to online fandom. I picked up The Great Hunt, which is the second book in the series, and thought it was okay, but I felt like I was missing something. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized I had skipped the first book! So I bought The Eye of the World, and was hooked. I went online to find out when the next one was coming out. That’s when I discovered websites like wotmania.com (which is no longer active). People were discussing theories and characters, and I had no idea what they were talking about! So I re-read the books and the rest is history! Another farm boy who becomes a king…a savior…a devil? Depends on who you ask!
  3. The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weiss and Tracey Hickman Wow. DRAGONS!! This was my first real “grown up” fantasy series. Again, I read the second book in the trilogy (this seems to be a habit) and thought it was amazing! Years later, I had the pleasure of meeting Margaret Weiss and Tracey Hickman at a con. It was great to be able to tell them in person how much this series influenced my love of fantasy. This is more of the questing type story. A rag tag group of people thrown together to defeat evil. Its got elves AND dragons! Yes!
  4. Dragon Prince/Dragon Star by Melanie Rawn This story was one of my favorites because it had so many characters and everyone seemed to be related! It was like a soap opera in some ways. And I mean that as a compliment. I loved the idea of sunlight as a source for magic. Its got everything- dragons and jewels, and pretty people and romance!
  5. The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis This one is near and dear to my heart. I used to read this series as a child over and over again. I spent a lot of time by myself and this series was my trusted companion. To this day, I still read this series at least a couple times a year, or I’ll listen to it on audiobook. The images and lessons from this series have stayed with me all my life. Further up and further in!
  6. Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams I’ve been talking about this series quite a bit recently since there are new Osten Ard books being published. I won’t repeat everything here, but I still gravitate towards stories similar to this one. I mean, its got elf like people! And the scullery boy who’s really a king! Classic.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

These are series that one day may creep into my top 5, but they are not quite ready yet…

  • Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling Loved the series, but haven’t had an interest to re-read them. If I ever do, then it may creep up on the list.
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins I adore this series, even though I tend to not like first person narratives. However, I inhaled this trilogy in just a couple days. I loved the movies as well.
  • The Expanse by James S. A. Corey I typically don’t read science fiction, but I will watch it. However, this series got my hooked from day one, as I have talked about before. I will definitely need to re-read it.
  • African Immortals by Tananarive Due I want to say that this was my first introduction to African American speculative fiction, even though I had read Octavia Butler before this. However, this series was something new and unique for me. To this day I still think this series would make a fantastic movie or TV show. Immortal Africans? The blood of Jesus? You can’t miss with that!
  • The Belgariad and The Mallorean by David Eddings Looking back, The Belgariad series was not all that great , but I gobbled it up at the time. Another farm boy who becomes king! I like series with multiple countries and cultures and this one fit the bill. For my young self, it was so epic and sprawling! I used to spend almost my whole weekly allowance buying the books. Now, it’s more nostalgia that makes me add this as an honorable mention.

What are some of your favorites?