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Book Review: The Obelisk Gate (Broken Earth #2)

The saga continues as the stakes rise in this sequel! In The Obelisk Gate we find our heroine Essun reunited with Alabaster – old friend slash mentor slash lover in a community built into a giant underground crystal. Alabaster, however, has been greatly reduced from his powers. He is slowly turning into a stone eater – a process he prefers rather than dying. The underground community is called Castrima-Under, and wonder of wonders, it is led by a rogga (supernatural humans with powers) named Ykka.

As Essun slowly gets used to life in Castrima, her daughter, Nassun, over to the North of the planet also begins to awaken her young rogga powers. And her powers are lethal.

“Do you consider yourself human? If you do, then so do I.”

The Obelisk gate, nk Jemisin

Mother-Daughter Theme

I think it’s brilliant how NK Jemisin structures The Obelisk Gate around the mother and her daughter. Hundred of miles separate them. They go through their own journeys, but you can just see that their paths are going to converge (in the third book), and it’s not going to be good. At least that’s what I think. I’ve never really read a book like this, where both heroines are fleshed out so well and I’m rooting for both of them, but I know both of them are probably going to take each other head on and it’s going to be devastating. Wow. Just brilliant.

The world building continues to fascinate me. More is revealed about the planet and it’s history with the civilizations prior to the Fifth Season societies. I think one thing Jemisin does so well is weaving the world building narratives into the book, enriching the stories and histories while never being info-dumpy. It’s always a fine line between too little world building and just an info dump of the universe, but Jemisin does it so well.

On Racism

As a third type of “humans”, the stone eaters are very interesting. At first, even our heroine Essun doesn’t consider them humans because, well, they’re more like stones. It’s fascinating because Essun is a rogga who has been dealing with rogga hate her whole life. Essun knows how it feels for roggas to be considered a lesser species in comparison to Stills (humans). And yet, that’s how she (and us, the readers) view the stone eaters! At one point Hoa, one of the stone eaters says to her: “Do you consider yourself human? If you do, then so do I.”

And that was subtle, but revelatory. I can’t wait to read the culmination of the series in the third book!

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Book Review: The Fifth Season (Broken Earth Series)

I picked The Fifth Season up because my editor Chriswan recommended it to me, with flying colors. The author NK Jemisin has won multiple Hugo Awards so I was pretty excited to dig in. I wasn’t disappointed. Having just finished a stellar fantasy series by Megan Whalen Turner called The Queen’s Thief, The Broken Earth Series mended my sad heart.

Originality

What amazed me about The Fifth Season was the courage of the author’s original writing voice. Told through multiple Point of Views, the author uses a style of narration I haven’t seen before in a book. Some reviewers on Goodreads couldn’t stand it, but I thought it was uniquely mysterious. When I found out later who the “I” was, it all clicked in. That’s why the narrator talks like this, I realize. I love AHA moments in books which have been planted carefully by the author from the beginning.

Important Message

There is a powerful fearless message about racism in this book. In fact, it’s one of the premises of the whole series. Jemisin even dedicates it to “those who have to work hard to be respected in ways that others naturally have.” I love books in which the author is uncompromisingly tackling a difficult topic with such style. Amazing.

Worldbuilding

Hats off to NK Jemisin for excellent worldbuilding through a creative way: the end of every chapter is suffixed with various interesting lore. Some of them have a subplot to them. The dystopian Earth she creates is vivid and dangerous, compelling and fascinating. Granted, it can sometimes be confusing because she creates a lot of new vocabulary that doesn’t really exist in the English language as we know it. To be honest, I’m still unsure what exactly the fifth season is (there were a lot of seasons mentioned, way more than five, I thought). But I can accept that because it doesn’t really bother the plot.

Characters

Mysterious, intriguing, and powerful. From the madman Alabaster, our heroine Syenite, to the stone eater Hoa, all the characters were so awesomely in between badness and goodness. None of the stereotypical bad guy good guy here.

In conclusion, my editor hasn’t yet recommended a book I haven’t enjoyed or learned something from, and it’s the same with the Broken Earth series. I can’t wait to see the developments in the sequel: The Obelisk Gate. If you like epic dystopian fantasy, this is the series for you. Another epic fantasy you might consider is The Priory of the Orange Tree.

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Book Review: Siege and Storm

Siege and Storm is the second installment of Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, which is now an epic Netflix series. Having read the books and watched the series (twice!) I have to say I like the Netflix version better. Rarely does this happen in a book vs screen battle but it did happen here. With that said, in my opinion, Siege and Storm was generally a more exciting book than the first.

Plot

Siege and Storm starts pretty bleak with Alina Starkov the Sun Summoner not being able to use her powers because she is in hiding with her childhood friend and love interest Mal Oretsev. Everyone will be able to track her down if she gives a hint that she can summon light, so she is pretty dependent on Mal. Which as we all know is a recipe for disaster. Sure enough, they get caught by the Darkling and he imprisons them (again) on a ship that is searching for Rusalye, the fabled sea serpent. The Darkling believes Rusalye is the second amplifier. With both amplifiers then Alina’s powers will be further maximized, which of course he intends to manipulate.

The reason I think this book is much more exciting is that a new character comes in who saves the day not once but several times. You guessed it. It’s Nikolai. I actually can’t wait to see who Netflix casts for him in season two.

Women empowerment theme

With regards to the women empowerment theme that is such a big part of this series, I think author Leigh Bardugo did a nice job positioning Alina to be the General of the Second Army. Sure, Alina is not ready and inexperienced and was just introduced to the Second Army about a year ago, but a large part of this book is Alina adjusting to her new role of leadership and command instead of being the trophy prize that she was in the previous installment.

Be on the lookout also for how Leigh Bardugo weaves the concept of organized religion in and out of this series, quite fascinating if one remembers her origins. Born in Jerusalem, Leigh is a nonpracticing Jew.

Have you read this series / watched the show? What did you think?

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Book Review: The Priory of The Orange Tree

Wow. The reviews on Goodreads for The Priory of the Orange Tree were stellar, and let me tell you they’re true! It is like the feminist version of Game of Thrones, while not half as gory nor as sexual. After a while, I was so disappointed in GoT because it was pages after pages of fights, sex, or food. I get it, real life is like that, but that’s not why I escape to books! Spoilers alert readers!

An Epic Which Breaks Traditions

The Priory of the Orange Tree reminded me why I escape to books when reality gets TOO MUCH. It’s an epic fantasy with a social structure that’s gender-equal. There are as many women rules as men (if not more), and plenty of skilled mages, sorcerers, witches, and straight-up female warriors. By warriors, I mean DRAGON RIDERS. Sounds good so far? It gets better.

“I was only observing how the fiercest of warriors can hide behind such gentle faces.”

Queen Sabran the Ninth is the last of her line, being unable to produce an heir for the queendom of Inys. Not only that, she finds out that the whole religion upon which her heritage was built was a lie. Her ancestor twisted and manipulated facts to benefit himself. No surprise there, this is just Politics 101. But what the author Samantha Shannen does that is SO COOL is she gets Queen Sabran to accept the hard facts and to DENOUNCE her religion. At the very end of the book, after everything is said and done, Queen Sabran will not only abdicate but will also change the whole structure of her queendom’s monarchy and beliefs. She plans to do this in 10 years, after which she will retire to be with her beloved Ead Duryan.

A Better World

Do you know who this reminds me of? This reminds me of George Washington. YEP. The founding father of the United States of America did not run for the presidency a third term. Instead, he purposefully stated that he wished to say goodbye and rest under the shade of his own tree. If more world leaders behaved like this, the world would be a much better place eh?

In addition to all of the groundbreaking and earth-shattering, the characters of The Priory of the Orange Tree are so REALISTIC. From the mage Ead Duryan, the dragon rider Tane, the alchemist Doctor Roos, and of course Queen Sabran herself are so three-dimensional. They all have fears, guilts, ambition, selfishness, strength, love, and solid character growth arcs. They all seem like people you would run across in your daily life, with their concerns and hopes. This makes you sympathize easily with all the different viewpoints, although some of them are in direct contrast from each other.

At the heart of this book is open-mindedness. Thinking with courage, accepting that which is different, and learning to work together despite the frameworks of distrust which has been passed on from generation to generation. It kind of reminds me of Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon.

Five Stars.

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Series Review: Shadow and Bone

The first season of Netflix Shadow and Bone, based on the trilogy by Leigh Bardugo has so many great things going for it. Warning: this review has tons of spoilers. With that, let’s unpack!

Worldbuilding

Fantastic! Plenty of lush scenes that will get you to buy in on this exquisite universe. Equipped with religious tie-ins, social strata, and historical tidbits, the Grishaverse appears solidly in front of the watchers. Costumes are fabulous, with special shout out to Alina’s various outfits: cartographer, Sun Summoner, saint / goddess-to-be, and runaway. Your eyes will be spoiled with summoning of the powers of the Grisha – some really cool visual effects happening there.

Casting and Characters

Jessie Mei Li gives just the right amount of vulnerability to Alina Starkov, the seemingly average girl who turns out to be able to summon light. This makes Alina one of the most powerful and coveted being in the world. That kind of rags to riches (in this case sainthood) hysterical contrast was portrayed convincingly. Archie Renaux as Mal Oretsev-Alina’s childhood friend and the tracker who finds the legendary stag is so charming! I have to say though, he was overshadowed (ha!) by Ben Barnes’ General Kirrigan, who has the power to call shadows and darkness.

I’ve heard that the love triangle between Alina Starkov, Mal, and the Darkling was a big thing in the books. In the Netflix series it was quite clear that Alina and Mal were head over heels for each other. The Darkling didn’t really have a chance.

The crows: Kaz, Inej, and Jesper

The crows: Kaz, Inej, and Jesper played by Freddy Carter, Amita Suman, and Kit Young? They steal the show. Honestly. This hilarious slash absolutely serious bunch of criminal masterminds will take your heart away from you, and then demand for you to pay an arm and a leg to get it back. Inej the Suli assassin who has all the knives and the skills (yet hesitate before taking a life!) is actually my favorite character in this whole series. What a gal. I mean, the moment when she stitches the wound on her own stomach because Kaz and Jesper were too queasy to do it? That’s girl power for you.

Plot

There seems to be 3 separate storylines happening, which can get confusing and is a lot of information to throw onto the watcher. That said, it motivated me to read the original trilogy. I’m still digesting my thoughts, and the book reviews will be up soon, but I think the Netflix version is making the plot much more interesting by combining the storylines.

With only 8 episodes, I finished Shadow and Bone in 2 days. I even re-watched the whole season LOL. Definitely a recommended series for lovers of fantasy. Oh, and the eerie soundtrack by composer Joseph Trapanese is a really nice touch.

If you like series like this, you might also enjoy His Dark Materials (HBO).