The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin

The Hundred Thousand KingdomsOne thing that is alternately very useful and very pathetic in my 2015 quest to read more diversely is the fact that my Goodreads TBR is pretty much full of diverse books and authors that I could have been reading this whole time. Case in point: this almost-five-year-old book that has been on my TBR list practically since it came out.

To be fair, the fact that this is a fantasy series didn’t particularly help it top Mount TBR all these years. I love the idea of fantasy series, but I am rarely willing to commit the time to read ALL THE PAGES, even in this series of three 400-600-page books. That sounds like effort, guys.

But it turns out that, as you may have guessed, that effort was totally worth it. I can’t really say that I enjoyed this book, but I liked it a lot and found it absolutely fascinating and full of really interesting ideas and I am totally going to read the rest of this series but probably not immediately.

So there’s this chick called Yeine, and she’s the leader of a nation called Darr and also the granddaughter of the dude who rules, um, everything. All the nations. As you do. Yeine is called to Sky, the city and castle her grandfather rules from, and she quickly finds out that a) her grandfather is dying, b) there’s going to be a literal fight to the death to replace him, and c) he has thrown her name into that fight, along with her cousins Relad and Scimina. Thanks, gramps!

Now, when I say fight to the death that makes it sound like this book is going to be action-packed and full of intrigue and subterfuge and daggers and all that good stuff, and that’s certainly what I was expecting. But it turns out that this part of the story is about politics, actually, and the ways in which people can fight without even having to see each other, which is pretty darn cool in its own right. This quieter intrigue and subterfuge plays out slowly over the course of the novel, leaving lots of room for what I thought was the more interesting part of the story, namely Jemisin’s worldbuilding.

So there’s this world-encompassing government that I’ve already mentioned, and you might be like, hey, how does someone run an entire world for any length of time without, you know, being overthrown twice on Tuesday? Turns out it’s pretty easy if you’ve enslaved your gods. All the gods. As you do. The ruling family, of which Yeine is a part, has the ability to command the gods to varying degrees, with grandpa Dekarta wielding more or less full power. Throughout the novel Jemisin parcels out information about the gods in their current state and the widely held beliefs about how the gods got there and also the actually true facts about how they got there and how they might get themselves out, which of course involves Yeine.

Oh, and, meanwhile, Yeine is trying to use her limited time left in this world (she has no illusions about her chances in the fight to the death) to help her homeland of Darr and to sift through the widely held beliefs and actually true facts about her mother’s life and recent death, and whether her grandfather had anything to do with the latter.

There’s a lot to the story, and it’s almost all really well done and intricately plotted and again, absolutely fascinating. But I have to admit that the ending was absolutely baffling to me, with all of the various threads of the story getting snarled in one big mess of a climax that probably has a logical explanation if only I could understand it. I mean, I understand the results of the crazy stuff, but I don’t really get how we got to the crazy stuff in the first place. Luckily the next book, at least from the preview pages I read, is going to move away from that weird stuff and give me different weird to look forward to.

Recommendation: For fans of epic fantasy and worldbuilding and big ideas.

Rating: 8/10

The Stand, by Stephen King

The StandThis book. I don’t even know what to do with it.

As I’ve mentioned a couple times, I tried to read this book on a vacation a couple years ago and got just over halfway through before the vacation ended and I got caught up in other, shorter books. So when it became the October read for my book club, I was like, hey, now I’ll finally have to read the darn thing! But of course I didn’t remember much of the first half, so I started over at the beginning and read the whole updated version, all 1200 pages of it, over the course of three and a half weeks. I am never getting those three and a half weeks of my reading life back.

Which isn’t to say that it’s not a good book, it’s just not the book I wanted it to be. I always forget that Stephen King’s doorstops are focused more on worldbuilding than on, say, story or plot or characters, and I get frustrated when things refuse to move at a reasonable pace and when the “I know something that character doesn’t know” lasts chapter after chapter after chapter with no resolution in sight. It didn’t help that I’d recently read Station Eleven, which, as I described to my book club, is kind of like The Stand but twenty years later and a heck of a lot quicker. Oh, quicker, I miss you.

But The Stand was a truly appropriate read right now, with Ebola in the news and the flu starting to go around, so I was probably more creeped out by it than I would have been had I actually finished it two years ago. Yay, creepy!

If you don’t know, The Stand follows the accidental release of a manmade flu that kills something like 99 percent or more of the US population, if not the world’s population. The first many chapters involve lots of people developing a sniffle and then dying a horrific death, and then eventually the survivors of these chapters start dreaming about a Good person and an Evil person and they start seeking out their preferred new leader. Mostly the book sticks with the Good survivors as they all make their way to Nebraska and then Boulder, Colorado, where they settle and collect more survivors and work to form an interim government and get life back on track. There’s a running undercurrent of worry about the Evil survivors and their creepy-pants leader Randall Flagg that is obviously going to have to resolve itself in some kind of epic showdown, but mostly the book is just about people doing day-to-day things in a strange new world.

I had no trouble coming back to the book every day to find out what was going on with all these people that I was starting to care for and worry about, though I really wanted that whole epic showdown thing to show up quick because seriously, I wanted to know who was going to win. So then when I got to the showdown and spoilers, it’s neither epic nor really showdown-y, I was like, you have got to be kidding me. And yes, I get that that’s kind of the point, that life doesn’t actually have epic showdowns even when people bring atomic bombs to a gunfight (no, really), but I WANTED A SHOWDOWN, people.

At least I totally called the survival of my favorite characters at the expense of my only-slightly-less-favorite characters, because otherwise I would have had to go find a print copy of this book in order to fling it across the room. Throwing a Kindle is just not the same.

Recommendation: Go read Station Eleven, it’s so much shorter and probably better. Or read this if you’ve got the time and the inclination to enjoy Stephen King. It’s a decent one.

Rating: 6/10

Princeps’ Fury, by Jim Butcher (23 August — 25 August)

More Codex Alera! I really do love this series.

So let’s see. This book picks up not too long after the last book. The Canim are on their way home with Tavi, except that when they get there, there’s not much home left, because the vord are back, and have taken over some ridiculously large portion of the Canim lands, which are themselves ridiculously large. Yaaay.

Meanwhile, back in Alera, the vord are back! Yaaay. This is sort of good, because the Citizens stop bickering about the First Lord for a while, but bad because, you know, there are lots of people dying. It’s also bad because the vord have figured out how to furycraft. Lame. There are a couple stories here — Bernard and Amara go off to do some skulking and figure out things like where the queen is and how the vord are getting around; Isana goes north to negotiate a truce between Alera and the Icemen, a fight which has been going on apparently needlessly for years.

I was a bit miffed with this book because the story doesn’t get all neatly wrapped up as it does in the other books. I mean, all of the storylines I described above are completed, but the overarching battle isn’t done yet. It’s not a big deal, but I’m glad the next book comes out in a couple months! Except then I’m caught up with the series and will have to start waiting for books again! Oh no! I’m gonna go cry in a corner now… or just read some more books…

Rating: 7/10

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Mistborn: The Final Empire, by Brandon Sanderson (3 April — 9 April)

Hmm. What to say about this book. Well. It’s one of those epic novels, and the first in its trilogy, so there’s something. The general plot follows a rebellion: the nobles are subjugating (as they do) people called skaa, who are not really different from the nobles but hey, someone needs subjugating, yes? And there are some skaa who don’t like the life they have and who want better. And there are some crazy skaa who decide to rebel. But not just like, “Hey, let’s rebel!” but like, “Hey, let’s rebel in like a year and spend that time making this rebellion AWESOME.” So they do. But things, of course, go right and wrong on a whim, and then there is epic fighting. Sweet!

So that was good.

Now, the fantastical conceit in this novel irked me for about the first three or four hundred pages. It is this: certain noble people who have some good genes can use magic. And even certain-er noble people with excellent genes can use lots of magic. But the magic comes from, um, swallowing metals. And then “burning” them. So, like, you can “burn” iron to pull on something made of metal, like a coin or a piece of armor. And you can burn tin to enhance your senses. And you can burn bronze to see if other people are using magic metal flakes. Not so irksome, you say? But, see, I know these things because Sanderson KEPT TELLING ME EVERY TIME SOMEONE USED A STUPID METAL. “Oh, this guy used pewter and got awesome strong!” “Falling was okay, because her pewter-enhanced muscles were awesome strong!” “If only she had some pewter, so she could become awesome strong!” Oh. My. Gosh.

But then at the end it seems Sanderson decided to trust the reader, and of course then I got confused about whether a metal was being used or not. -sigh-

Whatever. The end of the book was totally worth it, and it was great that his main protagonist was a girl, and I definitely want to know what happens to all these cool characters in the next book. But I swear, if I get babied about again, I’m going to swallow some pewter and then throw the book in the general direction of Brandon Sanderson.

Rating: 7/10
(Chunkster Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett (19 October − 27 December)

Good job, Alison! I finally (finally!) finished this book, which, as you can see, I’ve been working on for two months. Now, obviously, I’ve read maybe a few other books since I’ve started this one, so two months is not terribly pathetic, but it certainly feels like I’ve been reading this forever.

Pillars of the Earth tells the stories of a whole bunch of interconnected people — Tom, whose life goal is to be master builder on a cathedral; Phillip, a monk in a small cell who hopes to make his priory strong; William, whose marriage to a girl called Aliena is called off by the girl herself and who decides to take revenge on, well, everyone; Aliena, who vows to right the wrongs done to her family; and Jack, who loves Aliena from the moment he meets her. It’s all set over many years in the 1100s and brings in a lot of history, like the fighting between King Stephen and Empress Maud and later the murder of Thomas Becket.

It’s really very good. The problem I had with it is that it’s just so long! At 983 pages, it’s definitely the longest novel I’ve ever read. I just could not focus on it for more than an hour at a time when I started it, so I relegated it to my at-work bathroom reading since the book is surprisingly small and easier to fit in my bag than many of the books I read. Hooray mass-market paperbacks.

Brilliantly, though, and as I would have hated had I read this more quickly, Follett spends more than a few sentences of the novel reminding the reader what has happened in the past. I caught myself a few times going, “Oh, right, Ellen did curse that fellow at the beginning of the novel!” and such.

You should read this if you have a few months to spare, or a long weekend with nothing to do.

Rating: 7/10

The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan (27 May − 6 June)

By request of the boyfriend, who is in love with epic fantasy series. In this one we have an attack on a farming community, after which three boys must leave the village and go on terrifying adventures in order to save the world. You know how it goes. This book was kind of disappointing in that the mysteries that crop up throughout the novel are not all taken care of by the end. This is clearly so that you’ll read the next one, but I’m almost disinclined to do so. I don’t mind getting a new mystery at the end, but when I’ve been waiting for nearly 800 pages to find out Rand’s true lineage and I don’t get to find out? Boo on that.

Rating: 7/10