Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

I can’t say that I have read very many novellas, but I have wanted to read Nnedi Okorafor’s novel, Who Fears Death, for quite a while now, so I thought that I would read this novella as an introduction to her style. I am so glad that I did.

Binti is a 16 year old girl of the Himba people, who is not only leaving home for the first time, but is going into outer space. Of course, interstellar travel is common place in this futuristic Earth, but still. That’s pretty crazy! And on top of the interstellar travel, she’s sneaking out to do it! Binti is already showing us a lot about her character (strength, stubbornness, strong-willed, brave) just in these first few paragraphs. The story kicked into high gear once she gets on the ship that will take her to study at the Oomza University. Binti is, in very simple terms, a mathematical genius, and she is one of the extremely few (if only) of her people to be accepted to the University. Binti’s people rarely leave their homeland. The most interesting aspect of Binti is her culture. The Himba people cover themselves in a substance called “otjize”. Its made from oils and red clay that is native to their land. Of course, the Himba people are ostracized and ridiculed for their appearance and culture. This adds more dimension to Binti’s journey- she’s not only a young girl traveling on her own without her parents permission, but she stands out physically and culturally from everyone else around her. She is truly alone on the journey. The Himba culture plays a significant role in the rest of the story and adds another layer to the horrors that follow. Because you know there are horrors to follow.

I always appreciate a story with a person of color at its center. I also appreciate how Ms. Okorafor uses an African culture as a basis for the main character’s culture. Its a wonderful change of pace that I thoroughly enjoyed. The writing style is very clean and straight forward. There’s not a lot of description, but just enough to allow the reader to use their own imagination to fill in the blanks. Part of that has to do with this being a novella, but I get the impression that this is indicative of her overall writing style as well.

The story itself is definitely a page turner. The story takes, what is to me at least, a somewhat surprising turn towards the end. To me, this novella is an intriguing introduction to a new world. There is definitely a lot more story here, and I hope that Ms. Okorafor takes us on another adventure with Binti.

Lilypad Rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPadLilyPad out of 5

Advertisements

The Silk and Steel Saga (Books 1-3) by Karen Azinger

This review covers the first three books in the series (The Steel Queen, The Flame Priest and The Skeleton King). According to the official website (www.karenlazinger.com), there will be seven books in the series. The first six books have already been released. When I complete the rest of the series, I will do a wrap up review of those books as a group.

This series so far has many of the fantasy tropes that we are familiar with- young teenage protagonist who discovers she is the chosen one, her traveling companions made up of a warrior, monk/magician, beast master, etc. You can also see the author’s influences in the story- she’s clearly read some George RR Martin, Tolkien, and maybe some Robert Jordan. These influences include the shifting viewpoints for each chapter (not  unique to any one author, really), the original group getting split up, and also the main “big bad’, who is similar to Rand al’ Thor, the main character in the Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. More on that in minute.

To me at least, none of this makes the story bad or lack originality, its just that unlike other books I have read with these same tropes, it is very obvious. Or, that may just be me being able to recognize those influences much more now than I have in the past. If the story is well though out and paced, then that works for me. Every book does not have to bring a new innovation in story telling.

The plot boils down to the chosen one, Kath, chasing down the “big bad” (the Mordant) to stop him from conquering the world. The Mordant reminds me of the dragon reborn concept in the Wheel of Time, where the dragon reborn character (no spoilers!) has another person/consiousness in his head. Although here, the relationship between those two entities is much closer to full on possession. There are different storylines in the series, with the action taking place in different parts of the world. I find the storylines involving the Queen of Lanverness and the royal “J’s” to be more entertaining than the main storyline involving Kath. Kath suffers a little bit from being a character who does everything perfectly. Kath isn’t entirely special, but she seems to be good at quite a few things, even when she probably shouldn’t be. This may be changing a bit, judging by the end of the third book (The Skeleton King). It can get to be a bit tiresome, but since the view points shift with each character, it doesn’t become overwhelmingly aggravating. I am willing to see if this changes in the later books.

I found the overall story entertaining, but it has not kept me on the edge of my seat, wanting more. Usually with a series, I read all the books that are out in rapid succession. With this series it was several months between books. I would usually pickup something else first. These books have become my fallback in a way- I know I can always read them if I can’t find anything else. They are reliable- I know I will get a good story that will keep my interest for a time. I do want to know how it ends, so hopefully I will be able to find to find out by the end of the year. The seventh and final book, The Battle Immortal, is scheduled to be released later this year.

Lilypad Rating (so far): LilyPadLilyPadLilyPad out of 5

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This is going to be a short review. Not because I didn’t like the book, but simply because I don’t find that I have much to say about it. Ha!

This is the story of post-pandemic America. We get a glimpse of the very beginnings of the pandemic, and then we move on towards the aftermath, about 20 years later. The story follows a traveling theater group as they entertain what’s left of the United States, or at least the midwest. The story also shifts back and forth between the present day, before and during the pandemic, following different characters in the past. I thought the story tied the characters together in an interesting way. We see how characters in the past have left their legacy today. Whether its through the children they leave behind or the art they created.

I did feel that the story dragged a bit when we flashed back to Arthur (a famous actor before the pandemic) and his wife Miranda. I found the story arc interesting, but there was too much of it. As the story went on you can see the links between the characters in the past and present very well, but I felt that some of the details we gt into with Arthur and Miranda’s marriage was too much. I would have liked to have spent a little more time, for example, with the rise of the Prophet, as opposed to more Miranda and Arthur melodrama.

I was definitely left wanting to know more about this world after the pandemic, and how they continued to cope. The world seemed to be less stark than the world in the Walking Dead, for example. Without an immediate threat like zombies, the stakes are different. This world is more focused on re-building, while the world of the Walking Dead is focused on survival. The world in Station Eleven is not this happy communal place- you will always have people that are willing to do whatever it takes to survive and thrive, but there wasn’t this sense of complete and utter despair.

Overall, I enjoyed the story, even with a couple slow points.

Lilypad Rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPad out of 5

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

I read the Goblin Emperor as part of the Sword and Laser book club on Goodreads. Great group!

This is a standalone fantasy, with some steampunk elements. It’s very much a character piece, without a lot of plot. If character studies are your thing, then this book is definitely up your alley. With all the character moments, however there is definitely a story. A pretty basic story concept that you’ve probably heard before- the young prince who was too far down in the line of succession to ever think of actually ascending the throne, until a tragic accident changes everything.

The young prince in question is Maia, a half goblin, half elf who was the son of one of the emperor’s many wives. The emperor hated the fact that he had a half goblin son, so he was sent away into exile, far away from the court. When the emperor and his heir die in an airship accident, Maia becomes emperor. (This all happens very early in the book, so not really a spoiler). The rest of the novel is spent chronicling Maia’s early weeks and months as emperor. It follows his triumphs and missteps along the way. Maia is a likable character. He’s very normal, and has very natural reactions to the strangeness of the court. He’s not such a quick study that within a few chapters he’s perfected everything and becomes the greatest emperor ever. This makes Maia relatable and real.

The only “complaint” that I would have is that I would actually like more plot. There are some big moments that happen, but they are still very subdued. They happened quickly and were resolved quickly. I’m not quite sure how I feel about that. Heavy action sequences would not have fit with the overall tone of the book, but I think, a more intense, suspenseful sequence would have upped the stakes a bit more.

As I got to the end of the book, it felt like I had read the first book in series, where the world was set up and the rules established, and so now in the second book, we get to the meat of the story. But there is no second book.  It was only a beginning, and now we are left to fill in the rest of the story for ourselves. I enjoyed the story while I was reading it, but I am ultimately a bit unsatisfied.

I would also warn you that there are a lot of long, somewhat difficult names, along with naming conventions that can get very confusing. There were times when I had to figure out who people were by the context, not because I knew a particular character’s name. There is a glossary in the back that I suggest you reference. Often.

I would recommend the book if you are looking for a pleasant read and you don’t want to commit to a series.

Lilypad rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPad out of 5