Spoilerish. Hm. Where do I start with this? I really enjoyed this book. I would be lying if I said that part of the reason I picked up this book wasn’t because the writer is a woman of color. It’s so rare to see people of color writing and representing ourselves in high fantasy stories. I’m starting to see more urban fantasy novels featuring, and being written by, PoC, but high fantasy still sometimes seems a little taboo for PoC. And maybe I’m wrong, and I just haven’t been pointed in the direction of the plethora of fantasy novels written by PoC because they’re hidden away in the AA sections and rarely mentioned if ever mentioned.
I found out about this book through Tumblr when people were posting fanart for the series, and the little information that I was able to glean about series piqued my interest. Once I started this book, I couldn’t stop reading. Yeine was a great narrator, not one of those narrators who spends too much time turning over every single detail they’re taking in and making a story feel convoluted with unnecessary information. I also liked that she wasn’t perfect. So many heroes spend a bulk of their story saying why they’re not perfect while being basically perfect with such irrelevant flaws that are really more like strengths. Yeine doesn’t have to remind readers she’s not perfect, you see it in her actions, her choices, and her responses. She's a woman doing the best she can in a precarious situation and it shows.
I also liked this world that Jemisin created that seems to be a blend of so many cultures and religions. I found the history of the gods fascinating. Their perception and understanding of things differ so much from how a human experiences these things, and I think Jemisin captured their dichotomy between them and humans, even between each other, so well. I loved the “oh-so-human-yet-not” angle she played with the gods. They often remarked that humanity’s flaws were their flaws because they created everything.
I couldn’t help loving Sieh, Nahadoth, Zhakka, and even Kurue and Itempas. While I squealed all over Naha, Sieh, and Zhakka, Tempa (Itempas) was so fascinating to me, even though he didn’t make a real appearance until the end of the book. Just the nature of how humans and other gods spoke about him made him feel omnipresent and powerful--and even a bit terrifying. Because while Naha outwardly showed his danger, Tempa came off as cool, calm fury. When we finally “met” him, I wished we’d had more time to get to know him.
What I really liked about Jemisin’s book sort of falls in the same vein as how I feel about G.R.R.M.’s books in his A Song of Fire and Ice series. While these stories are set in fantasy settings where magic is present, there’s something real and visceral in how they portray characters. They manage to capture a lot of human nature in their characters and make it something more than just a fantasy novel. These stories really know how to make you relate to the characters and ruminate on their machinations.
Now, Jemisin works with the high fantasy and magic way more than G.R.R.M does, in my opinion, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that these are people--and gods--making mistakes, acting on emotions, and not just a “magic made ‘im do it!” scenario, which I highly appreciate.
There are characters I would’ve loved to explore in more depth like Scimina, Dekarth, and Relad. I felt like some of the revelations we came to about Dekarth and Viraine happened a little too quickly at the end there like it would’ve been better if more of this unfolded throughout the story instead of everything getting the big reveal near the end of the book, even if you pretty much suspect that’s how it will end. And I really wish we'd learned more about Darr. These are a couple of reasons that I didn’t give this a full 5 stars, but more like 4.5 stars.
Helluva story overall. I started the next book almost immediately, though I haven’t gotten in very far. Usually when I realize that the next part of a series won’t necessarily follow the characters that I’ve come to love, I feel a little apprehensive, but Yeine’s story mostly felt complete. (And I’m sure the gang will still factor in.) Did I feel Jemisin could’ve dragged this story on for a couple of books? Maybe, but only if she’d stretched out the story told in this book. But I’m actually excited to read about another character’s adventures in this world.