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Book Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Book 1) by N.K. Jemisin

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The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Source: Wikipedia

Plot Summary (Taken from Amazon): Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle.

My Review: One of the best things about the book is its main character Yiene.  She is a compelling character because of how complex she is. She is physically strong because she can defend herself with a knife and her fists, yet she is emotionally vulnerable because she recently lost her mother. Her Arameri and Darr heritage makes her identity torn between a ruling family and a “barbaric” family. As the story progresses, there are other dualities that are revealed that develop her character even more until she is self actualized.

Another great thing about this book are the secondary characters. Most of them don’t fit the neat categories of good or evil, so the reader is made to feel mixed emotions about them. The most compelling characters are the gods Itempas and Nahadoth and the godling Sieh. Their powers are awe-inspiring, their personalities are intriguing, and their situation is sympathetic.

Besides the main character Yiene and the secondary characters, the setting is very imaginative and amazing. According to the appendix in the back of the book, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a term for the world since it was unified under Arameri rule. Sky is the palace of the Arameri and it houses one god, some godlings, and the Arameri. Darr is a tribal country with mostly female warriors and a harrowing rites of passage ritual.

In addition to the characters and the setting, the magic system and mythology  is very creative. Notable aspects are the  creation story of the gods and godlings, how the gods and godlings can be controlled, and the Seed of the Earth.

A final notable aspect of the book is how it deals with racism, classism, colonialism, and power struggles. These themes are weaved so well into the plot that readers will want to keep turning the page to find out what happens next. Furthermore, the way that these issues impact Yiene will make readers either relate to or sympathize with her.

Overall, this was a great beginning to The Inheritance Trilogy. I recommend it to any fantasy fiction lover.

 

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Written by Serena Zola

January 1, 2015 at 10:00 AM

Book Review: Griots- Sisters of The Spear (An Anthology)

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Griots: Sisters of The Spear

Source: Blogspot

Plot Summary (Taken from Amazon): Griots: Sisters of the Spear picks up where the ground breaking Griots Anthology leaves off. Charles R. Saunders and Milton J. Davis present seventeen original and exciting Sword and Soul tales focusing on black women. Just as the Griots Anthology broke ground as the first Sword and Soul Anthology, Griots: Sisters of the Spear pays homage to the spirit, bravery and compassion of women of color. The griots have returned to sing new songs, and what wonderful songs they are!

My Review: One of the best things about this anthology is the black women characters in the stories. They are  warriors, magic users,  goddesses, queens, and more. They are positive representations that show black women can just as good  as black men or surpass black men in certain ways.

In addition, almost all of the characters juggle multiple roles that add complexity to who they are. Furthermore, personality traits such as kindness, bravery, and resilience make certain characters  very admirable.

Another great aspect of these stories is the magic featured in some of them. Many of the stories are really brought to life because of certain magical creatures or events. For example, one story involves a warrior girl who has a brother who can shape shift into a lion.

Besides the black women and the magic, the pacing of most of these stories is really good. There is action and adventure in many of these stories, so the pacing becomes fast enough that the reader wants to know how the story will end. If they find themselves craving for more, they will find themselves moving on to the next story until they reach the end of the book.

Overall, this is a fantastic anthology. I recommend this book to black women who want to see good representations of themselves in fantasy fiction.

Book Review: Once Upon A Time in Afrika by Balogun Ojetade

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Once Upon a Time in Afrika

Source: Blogspot

Background Info on Sword and Soul:  Soul and Sword is a genre that incorporates sword and sorcery with the mythology, folklore, and culture of Africa.

Plot Summary (Taken from Amazon): Desperate to marry off his beautiful but “tomboyish” duaghter, Esuseeke, the Emperor of Oyo, consults the Oracle. The Oracle tells the Emperor Esuseeke must marry the greatest warrior in all Onile (Afrika). To determine who is the greatest warrior, the Emperor hosts a grand martial arts tournament inviting warrior from all over the continent. Unknown to the warriors and spectators of the tournament a powerful evil is headed their way. Will the warriors band together against this evil?

My Review: One of the book’s strongest assets is its characters. There is an equal amount of strong female and male characters. For instance, Esusekke is skilled in hand-to-hand combat and using bow and arrow. Matching her combat skills is the male character Akin, who has the makings of a leader and a great warrior. Other examples include Akin’s mother Oyabakin  and Akin’s father Geboya, who are wise and skilled fighters in their own right.

Other interesting characters include various creatures in the realm, including witches and wizards, assassins, and half-warriors with either animal or monstrous qualities. These secondary characters brought Onile, the alternate world of Africa, to life. Depending on the character, they either made the story action-packed or humorous.

Besides the characters. the plot is fast-paced and filled with action, adventure, and a little romance. It will hook the reader and make the book hard to put down.

The only flaw in the book is the story’s world. The author did a great job incorporating Yoruba mythology into Onile. However, since the plot is so fast-paced and the story less than two hundred pages, the reader doesn’t have enough time to enjoy Onile. Different areas of the continent are introduced so quickly that the reader may feel disoriented at times.

Overall, this was a great sword and soul book. I recommend it for people getting into the genre for the first time. I also recommend it to black fantasy fiction lovers looking to see themselves in the pages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: His Black Wings by Astrid Yrigollen

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Plot Summary: When Claren Maidstone’s parents die, she is forced to flee her childhood home after a vile and greedy man named Kurten attempts to marry her. Soon, she becomes an assistant to a man named Frederick Lowood and is asked to live at his home in Westwind and befriend his “disfigured” son Etrigan at his home. Yet, her past is never far behind. As she adjusts to her new life, Kurten finds her again and terrible things that she never knew about her employer, his son, and her family come to light.

My Review: One of the best things about this book is the  storyline. Amazon’s book description states that this is a blend of Beauty and the Beast and Jane Eyre. While some of the story is like this, there is also a dash of steampunk and sci-fi that makes it authentic and interesting.

In addition, the characters are great. Claren Maidstone is just as brave and assertive as Jane Eyre. Etrigan becomes a very caring person as the story develops. Also, Horace and Dekker were funny and loyal friends to Claren. Lastly, Frederick’s character is kind and somewhat tragic, but very well-developed.

Besides the storyline and the characters, the steampunk setting is very interesting. It is a mix of futuristic and traditional technology such as regular books and a device with every book ever written and a regular horse and a steam horse. There are also futuristic and old-fashioned beliefs, some of which directly affect the characters.

One of the flaws in the book was that Etrigan’s dilemma was brushed aside when the story ends. It felt like the author focused so much on wrapping up Claren’s dilemma that she forgot about the other characters. If the author has a sequel to the book, then hopefully she will tie up the loose ends.

The only other flaw is that in the Kindle Edition, there were some spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. It didn’t detract my attention from the story and there weren’t a lot, but they were noticeable.

Overall, the book was very entertaining. I would recommend it to fantasy fiction readers, especially fans of Beauty and The Beast.

Written by Serena Zola

January 17, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Banned Book Week Spotlight: The Harry Potter Series

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Hogwarts Coat of Arms

Hogwarts Coat of Arms Source: Wikimedia Commons

It’s one of my favorite literary times of year again: Banned Book Week! From September 22 to the 28th, people are celebrating the freedom to read classic books and current books. This year, I’m going to spotlight The Harry Potter series.

I was in fourth grade when I first heard about the series. A kid brought in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to class and my teacher read some of it aloud. The story had me intrigued and I remember getting my mom to buy it for me. The only problem was, I hadn’t realized I was reading the series out-of-order until I looked on the spine. Oops!

Anyway, I think I either somehow read the entire book with no clue what was going on or I managed to get the first three books and read them first. I can’t remember which happened, but either way I eventually understood the plot and became a fan of the books.

When I was in elementary school, I liked the books because I was in awe of Harry’s world.  There was magic, creatures, and places I couldn’t have dreamed of before reading the series. I found it really cool.

By the time Harry Potter and The Order Phoenix came out, I found that book becoming my favorite in the series, I could relate to Harry’s angst and the way he wondered about what kind of person he was. Another thing I liked were the weird characters and creatures that were introduced: thestrals, Luna Lovegood, Nymphadora Tonks, and Grawp.

I had also realized I could relate to Hermione the most. Like her, I was “an insufferable know-it-all” who read a lot and got bullied for it.  Unlike Hermione though, I specialized with being a know-it-all” in a particular subject: literature. Also, I was pretty lonely and there were plenty of times I wished Hermione actually existed.

The biggest impact this series has had on me was introducing me to fantasy-fiction, mythology, and folklore. Without this series, I would have never read the Percy Jackson series, the Song of the Lioness quartet, or any Dragonlance books.  I am eternally grateful for this series giving me a strong love for fantasy-fiction.

Thank you so much J.K. Rowling for giving me one of the best things about my childhood. These books will always be in my heart.

Written by Serena Zola

September 20, 2013 at 11:11 PM

Book Review: The Ocean at The End of The Lane by Neil Gaiman

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Plot Summary (Taken from Goodreads): Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touch-paper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

My Review: One of the best things about this book is some characters. The Hempstocks, the women prominently featured in this book, were amazing. Old Mrs. Hempstock and Ginnie Hempstock were so motherly and caring, you would want them in your family. Lettie Hempstock is a very brave and wise heroine. While the narrator of the book is someone to care about, he was hard to truly connect to because he is never addressed by name.

Another thing I enjoyed about this book is Gaiman’s writing style. Although I’m used to it, it is always something I appreciate. He has a way of describing magic that makes you really feel it. Also, he does a good job  making a story something anyone can connect to.  Furthermore, some of his sentences are memorable because they honestly reflect on something. A favorite goes, “I liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories. They were better than that. They just were.”

Despite these good aspects, the lack of a plot resolution kept this book from being really enjoyable. The reason for this is that the purpose of the magic is never explained. Why is there an ocean at the end of the lane? Where did it come from? Without these questions answered, it feels like the reader is missing something.

Gaiman has crafted an engaging story, but he has written better works. However, this book might be enjoyable to teens and adults who love fantasy. At only 178 pages, it is also a decent summer read. If you enjoyed Gaiman’s Coraline,  then feel free to give this book a try.

Written by Serena Zola

July 9, 2013 at 11:58 AM

Book Review: Wicked by Gregory Maguire

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 From the back cover: When Dorothy triumphed over the Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum’s classic tale, we only heard her side of the story. But what about her arch-nemesis, the mysterious Witch? Where did she come from? How did she become so Wicked? And what is the true nature of evil?

One of the highlights of the book is the complexity of character the Wicked Witch of the West aka Elphaba. She reminded me a lot of the character Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. She is loving toward a select few, and cold toward others.  She is strong with most characters in the book, yet vulnerable to the reader. Her duality made her very real and human. Depending on who the reader is,  it might make a lasting impression.

Another highlight of the book was the story world. While it is based on  L. Frank Baum’s Oz, there are many allusions to  the real world within Maguire’s Oz . For instance, an Animal is an animal that can talk like humans and is discriminated against for wanting to do things like humans do. If the animal can’t talk, it is considered normal. The Animals could be virtually any discriminated group in the real world including Hispanics, blacks, or homosexuals.

One of the shortcomings of the book was the plot. When things were heating up and the story is reaching the climax, it is like the author stopped writing and came back to the book. Due to certain circumstances, Elphaba ends up sitting still somewhere for a time and the plot gets tedious. The only way the reader will keep reading at that point is if they really empathize or sympathize with Elphaba (as the case was with me). Furthermore, when the book moves on to its next section (the book is divided into four sections with its own chapters), it felt like there was something missing, as if certain events could have been drawn out more.

In addition to the plot, this reader did not enjoy the way it was told from various characters’ points of view. The book is supposed to be about Elphaba, the girl who would become the Wicked Witch of the West. Why not just focus on things from her point-of-view? This reader did not care about a classmate named Boq; this reader only cared about Elphaba’s story! If the story had just been told from Elphaba’s point-of-view, then the confusion felt when going from section to section could have been avoided.

If you are a fan of the musical Wicked, then you might know that it is based on this book. If you are a hard-core fan of the musical, do not read this book because you might end up disappointed and bored. However, I do recommend this book for someone who is looking for a good fantasy story. Due to the violence and sexual material, this book is best suited for older teens or adults. Wicked was not great, but it was good.

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