Synopsis: Warrior-monks discover that their king is fomenting a war with a neighboring kingdom, and take action to stop him.
Book Review: This book is amazing, and everyone should read it.
First, the world is beautifully detailed, and presented to us piece by piece exactly as we need to know it. The two cultures within it are rich and complex and feel very different from each other. Best of all – when we’re in the PoV of the warrior-monks, their culture feels natural and morally good, and the other kingdom’s culture is alien and corrupt. When we’re in the PoV of the spy working for the other kingdom, it is THEIR culture that feels natural and morally good, and the monk’s culture is insidious and savage. Every time the PoV changes Jemisin pulls us emotionally into that character’s home culture, and it creates a delicious dissonance.
Which is not to say nothing of her prose, which is uniformly excellent. In many places it is basically poetry. Take this sentence, which is published as plain prose, but which I’ve broken into lines because that’s how I read it, and I can never hear it any other way now. (I’ve obscured the name to avoid possible spoilers)
[Name] hated them, and so fierce was his hatred
that some of it broke free
and leaped forth.
When he pulled it back, their souls came with it,
plump wriggling fish
snared in the net of his mind.
Furthermore the work has volumes to say on the nature of love, and its relationship to death. And it doesn’t say it by preaching, it says it by showing you the effects that different ways of expressing love have on the characters in the story.
The plot is solid and progresses at the perfect clip. The villain, once he is revealed, is a villain of the best variety. I love stories with complex, sympathetic villains (such as Rational!Quirrell). This novel has that type of villain. You are honestly torn as to whether you should be rooting for him to win or not. His goal is just! His motives are noble! And his justification is well-thought out and entirely rational. The only problem is that his methods are abhorrent, and you can’t quite justify them. The ends are so good! But the means are so bad, that you can’t bring yourself to accept that trade. At least, I couldn’t.
And the ending! Oh my god, the ending! I thought this was one of the better books I’ve read in over a year, but then I read that last chapter and the punch it delivers is gut-wrenching, and I knew this was one of those rare books I will remember for a long, LONG time.
Book Club Review: Yes. This is a good book. It has several big things to say, and will likely keep people talking for quite a bit. One potential downside – several of our readers felt that the first few chapters were very slow, and had to push through them before the story picked up. I didn’t think that, obviously, but it may be a rough start for some. It is worth it. Recommended.