If a magic bartender were to blend me a book (or a bunch of books) to perfectly suit my tastes, background, and present level of desired escapism, that bartender would serve me books by N. K. Jemisin.
The tone taken and worlds built and characters depicted by this author are just way up my alley.
Her work was recommended to me by L, because we both enjoy fantasy. Some of the YA fantasy stuff I’ve tried to get into hasn’t held me very well. I picked up a school library “discard” copy of City of Bones because people seemed to like it, and I couldn’t get into it. I had read the first Divergent book, which was fine, but haven’t been motivated to go for number two. Right now, I’m reading The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear which don’t get me wrong, is delightful, it just… well… isn’t Jemisin.
The first one I picked up was The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and I immediately fell in love with the gods of that universe, so I naturally followed it pretty immediately with The Broken Kingdoms and The Kingdom of Gods. This is the Inheritance trilogy (though she added some short stories for this universe as well). I didn’t always love the point of view construct, but I did end up cherishing the characters. I also really liked her portrayal of the matriarchal/matrilineal Darr culture, especially as I try to create one of my own to set at the center of a story.
I followed the Inheritence binge with The Killing Moon, which I liked slightly less, mostly because it was harder for me to understand the Egyptian-flavored society and also harder for me to bond with that cultural world. Things more easily Roman are more in my wheelhouse, and I didn’t really get the whole dream-magic thing as much as I had with the Inheritance stories (though I later would). So I went back to Inheritance with the shorter stories Shades in Shadow and The Awakened Kingdom. Also good, though not as satisfying as the full-length novels.
Read some other stuff for a while, then took in The Fifth Season (which just recently won a Hugo), and having found it very satisfying and having liked it immensely (more than the stuff in the paragraph immediately preceding this one), I also went on a bit later to read the second Dreamblood book, The Shadowed Sun (…which I liked so much I cried).
Jemisin’s stuff isn’t Tolkein, and it isn’t GRR. Her epics aren’t about trying to restore or maintain the status quo. Her strong female characters neither come across as tokens nor as trying-too-hard to prove something. She navigates the planes of race and gender with a touch I admire, understanding the norms and backdrop of her real-world readers, but without importing those biases to her characters. Her gods and other superhumans are relatable, her heroes flawed, her villains sympathetic. Her worlds are complicated and I think that’s why I liked them.
I also like the tone she takes in her other pages – online or in the “questions with the author” type sections. She sounds like a person who has spent time in some of the ways I have also spent time, and identifying with her in this way makes me feel like I want to write like she does (not directly imitative, but inspiration-like), and even that it wouldn’t be so far out of my reach.
But right now, because I have a cold and I just want my reading to take me out of my body and on an intellectual and emotional ride, I just wish I had more stuff of hers to read.
Wait. I just found out that The Obelisk Gate was literally published last week. I may in fact be in more luck than I thought.
Edit: The Obelisk Gate is literally already on my kindle and has been for days already what is this sorcery