The Shadowed Sun

The Killing Moon gives us a really beautiful mentor/apprentice relationship in Ehiru and Nijiri. It isn’t a relationship that is explored as often as I’d like in main through-lines of fantasy, probably because the Hero’s Journey format is more about a mentor who comes and goes as needed, or different characters filling different mentor-like roles at different times.

Jemisin, however, hits on the best possible dynamic of a mentor/apprentice relationship. Love and respect, as a motivation for success in their trade.

I think often about how I wanted to please my elders when I was young. There’s still a big part of me that wants to do that as an adult. It’s a major factor to contend with in my life, and I see it so rarely in the fantasy I read. The heroes/heroines are orphaned, or perversely independent by nature, or trying to prove themselves to themselves, not to anyone else. I’m not sure why that is, unless you look at Disney’s track record and believe that introducing parents to the mix just makes things way too complicated for a nice compact story. I think any therapist anywhere would agree with that.

So I really loved, in The Shadowed Sun, how Jemisin weaves the mentor/apprentice relationship into the plot. It is integral to it, but doesn’t completely define the protagonist. Hanani has her own motivations, her own need to prove herself as the only female in her healing trade, but her relationship with her mentor also moves the plot forward, and offers twists and motivations that are deep, rich, and beautifully crafted to give us the full in-depth treatment of Hanani’s heart.

Wanahomen, sort of a co-protagonist, is interesting as well. He is also driven by a motivation to please an elder–his father, who died in the first book. This makes Wanahomen’s character complex, and accounts for the very realistic mistakes he makes that help drive the plot. I think I might have liked him a lot less if he was as dismissive of women as the barbarian tribe that he has been living with–but his reverance for women in accordance with his birth culture saved me from that.

Ultimately Hanani and Wanahomen’s stories are woven together in a beautiful pattern of pride, passion, grief, and growth. The ending is satisfying in a realistic way, and feels germane to the characters. I’m eager to read Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy, after having enjoyed the Dreamblood Duology so much. I highly recommend these to anyone who enjoys fantasy and is looking for more than the usual, tired old tropes.

The Killing Moon

There’s a lot of beauty in this book. I haven’t read Jemisin’s Inheritance trilogy yet (I’m borrowing it from my cousin later this summer), but her writing flows. There’s grace in it, in the way she describes the settings and the mannerisms of the characters.

I really admire when an author can jump right into a story without doing too much infodumping. So often you can tell you’re in the beginning of a story because there’s so much explanation of this and that. But good writers just jump right in, because it’s an entire world that exists for them, not just something that springs into being on page one and disappears after the last sentence. The worlds contained in these stories are not finite—they have history and the character was alive and awake and doing things the day before the story started, too. Jemisin gets that.

Nijiri is a wonderful character. Ehiru and Sunandi are great, too, but the majority of my love for this book comes from Nijiri. He’s willful and prideful and young but never quite naive. He feels things purely. His emotions bring out the best responses and reactions in the other characters. He drives everything, even though things happening in the plot seem to be happening to other people or by other people’s design. He’s a joy to read.

In depth and richness of cultural and religious background, Jemisin’s world in this book reminds me of Jacqueline Carey’s world in the Kushiel’s Legacy series. Even the way she throws out the limiting frivolity of labeling people’s sexual preferences reminds me of Carey. You don’t have to call someone gay or bisexual or heterosexual when love and sex are not culturally restricted. I wish I didn’t feel like that was such a cool thing—because it means we’re so far from throwing out those labels in our own society. But it’s nice to escape to places where no one questions or cares or limits things. Attraction is attraction, love is love, sex is sex.

All that said, there aren’t actually any sex scenes in this book. I don’t want to mislead by talking about it so much. 🙂

There’s political intrigue, a fascinating system of magic that’s entwined with healing and dreaming, all set in a rich cultural system modeled on that of the ancient Egyptians. Jemisin’s writing is deep and thoughtful and exciting. This one is an excellent choice for lovers of fantasy fiction.

A Meeting at Corvallis

As the third book in the first trilogy, you expect the stakes to be raised. War, definitely. Probably some of the characters we know and love dying. Political intrigue, more fun weapons and farming hacks from these people still adapting to a changed world.

I was a little disappointed at first when everything seemed to jump around a bit. There are a lot of storylines here that all have to converge together, and thankfully Stirling does a pretty good job juggling them. It’s a far cry from the first book, which made you fall in love with Mike and with Juney. But all the players in this third book are important, and the different plot lines converge in an epic climax.

There is a nice sort of interlude at times, when we’re following Rudi Mackenzie. His scenes are less action-packed—three or four characters at once instead of everyone on a battlefield fighting a war. It makes sense, having read the next trilogy, that Stirling would want to take time to develop Rudi and get readers interested in him. He’s a fun character, and I like him while he’s still a kid in this first trilogy, full of a pure, childlike wisdom that makes him intriguing.

A Meeting at Corvallis is an epic finish to the Mike/Juney storylines, so if they are the only reason you’re reading the books you probably don’t want to move on to read The Sunrise Lands. If, however, you love Rudi Mackenzie and want to see a lot more of him, you should read what they dub the Emberverse II books (sort of a sequel series to the initial trilogy). If you like Stirling’s writing, it’s worth it to keep reading the books. And if you’re Pagan, it’s even more worth it. Rudi lives his Paganism in a way that Juniper Mackenzie could only dream of, since Rudi was born into a world where Paganism was one of the major religions, except an eccentric oddball religion that many people considered cult-like.

The Protector’s War

This book takes place eight years after the events of Dies the Fire. We get more Juney and Mike, with all the supporting cast of characters that you grow to love during the first book. In addition, we get some awesome British characters thrown into the mix, which widens the scope of things.

There’s war brewing between the Mackenzies & Bearkillers and the Portland Protective Association. Which puts our characters in danger, and makes for some fun sweeping battle scenes. You get to know a little more about the characters in this one, but don’t have the same prolonged exposure to single characters that you did in the first book. Though, it’s pretty hard not to fall for young Rudi Mackenzie. He’s eight years old, and precocious as anything.

This book is mostly a bridge between books one and three, but not at all boring. You get nice escalations of characterization, plot, and world building. The apocalypse problems of “oh shit the world has changed and everyone is killing each other” shift to problems of organizing groups of people for protection and farming. You get to see some more of Astrid and Eilir, too, which is great, because I love them.

If you liked Dies the Fire, you’ll like The Protector’s War. And it’s infinitely worth reading so that you can get to A Meeting at Corvallis for the big finish.

Dies the Fire

Post-apocalyptic fiction is a big deal for me. I’ve always thought that raising the stakes is the best way to see who a character truly is. On a small scale you could say that’s why I prefer YA over adult fiction so often—because for teenagers things are often perceived as life or death, even if “death” is only social suicide. Why do I prefer speculative fiction over realism? Same thing. Stakes are usually higher. Characters facing magic or new frontiers or intergalactic wars—bigger scale, higher stakes. Frodo can bring down this great force of evil if he just manages to walk to Mordor and throw a trinket into a volcano. One character, making all the difference.

So apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction is great, because it rips away everything a character knows and loves, and we get to see what’s left. What they can make of themselves, when they have nothing.

Dies the Fire follows two strong protagonists who become leaders in a world Changed. Gunpowder doesn’t explode anymore. The laws of physics have changed. No electricity. No electronics, period.

I like Mike because he’s a bit of a hardass, and gets shit done while protecting his people. Juniper is great because she’s strong but yielding enough to be really likable. And, she’s Pagan. How cool is that? S M Stirling gets the details right, too, which really helps. No mis-representation of Paganism for the sake of Hollywood thrills here.

This first novel of the first trilogy of the novels of the Change (say that ten times fast) starts right at the Change itself, which is cool to witness through both our protagonists’ eyes. And for this particular apocalypse scenario, it’s better that we can watch the characters face the Change head on, rather than joining them years after the fact. Still, the novels could all be considered post-apocalyptic because they really deal more with the fallout of the Change than with the Change itself. Empires are built back up and go to war, that sort of thing.

I like Stirling’s writing style, too. He’s got plenty of details in there, writes good dialogue, and knows how to get us invested in these characters by showing us their flaws right alongside their strengths. I’ve read this first trilogy a few times now, and it’s definitely worth it. An excellent read for the post-apocalyptic novel fan, the avid reader who happens to be Pagan, and the speculative fiction reader who enjoys adult fiction with strong characterization and semi-epic storylines (seeing as the second trilogy follows the second generation).