I will c-commence this review by venting- No… yes, yes, I can do that. Can I? W-will I die if I don’t do it? No, I will vent my displeasure- Yes. I mean, no. M-maybe. Okay? Yes. Yes, now I understand. So, this book was a decent one, even though I found some of the elements to be irritating in the extreme. It was lacking in some departments, but it more or less compensated for those flaws elsewhere. I won’t lie. My expectations were quite high as I’d seen a lot of the hype about this book in various forms of media. And because it was written by a African American woman. I embrace changes and new things and seeing how Jemisin succeeded in a genre that is unfortunately dominated by white male authors, I looked forward to this book, sensing that I would give it the highest possible score, just because… Well, because. But I can’t force myself to give it more than three stars. It is a good debut, but it took a very long time for me to adapt to the way Jemisin writes. She lost me a couple of times in the beginning, but I’m glad I endured until the end. It is a strong form of narrative, no doubt about that, even though I disliked it from time to time. And the way the Gods are portraited is different and interesting, a novelty I enjoyed.

Let me begin with the superficial, the stuff that has little to do with the plot. The author and her avatar. Reading a novel with a strong female character as the main protagonist was a breath of fresh air for me, as I tend to mostly read novels where the hero is a valiant and youingish male. I was actually glad that there weren’t much of the aspects that are usually prominent in novels written by men. Violence, magic, sex. It’s still here, but it has a different ring to it and it’s important for other reasons, not principally for the entertainment of the reader. Jemisin is a fantastic writer, and her use of such an intimate form of the first person perspective really appealed to me. Yeine is a breath of fresh air, and she is a truly remarkable character to follow throughout the novel. We have access to all of her innermost thoughts and secrets, fears and passions, and that’s where I think the novel also has its major flaw. The prose. The drama is very strong with this one. Sometimes unnecessarily so. One thing that irritated me to high heavens were the dialogues and the interactions between the characters, which were very wierd. The dialogues are  full of stutters, hesitations and interruptions that kill the pace and natural flow of the plot. Compare it to how I started this review. The way the interactions are handled does not ooze desperation and frightfulness, which I have no doubt was intended, but instead become tedious and irritating. It’s just used too much and way too often.

The consequences of the wierd interactions are visible in the vibe of the novel and the overall setting, which are gloomy andmelancholic, sometimes more than necessary. Another thing I had problems with in this novel (and in most contemporary fantasy books as a matter of fact) is that very little time is devoted to describing what the characters and the setting looks like. Yeine’s grandmother is for example only described as shorter than average. And that’s it. How can I possibly see her in my mind? The fantastic thing about literature is that much is left to your imagination and if you have a good one, the books you’ll read will be infinitely better than any movie, because you’ve painted the picture yourself, so to speak. But what can I do with one tiny piece of information, that doesn’t even describe the grandmother directly, but indirectly? I’ve read many books in my life so naturally I’ve seen a lot of elderly characters in my mind. And because of that, I had a difficult time forming a precise image of her. There’s just to much freedom. The same can be said about the city and the palace. There’s so little time devoted to defining them that for the entire course of the story I was unsure if it was set in a medieval fantasy setting, or during an alternate magical modern timeline, or… Towards the end of the book I heard that the setting was not medieval European, but more akin to African or Asian culture. If I hadn’t heard that I would’ve still thought the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms were another pseudo-European culture.

Artwork by Neondragon. Visit http://www.neondragonart.com for more.

Overall, the whole book feels like a grownup(ish) Alice in Wonderland, yet a shade weirder. Yeine finds herself in a strange place, surrounded by peculiar people and it’s only her determination and will that can save her. I thought the ending was strong and quite satisfying.

So, a unique novel? Yes. Wierd and appealing at the same time? Quite so. A breath of fresh air? Definitely. Will I be reading the next two books? I think so, but I will need some time to digest this one first and reread some of the passages.