Hugo Awards

2019-08-19 14.39.14

This years Retro Hugo (left) and Hugo (right) awards

I had not been to the Hugo Awards before (having never been to a WorldCon before). In fact I had only been to two award ceremonies before it (The British Fantasy Awards last year and the Arthur C Clarke Awards this year). I am glad I managed to get to go though as I had a pretty damn enjoyable evening and there are some things I want to talk about as a result.

One of the awards given out at the Hugos is something that is administered by the convention but is not a Hugo, which is the John W Campbell award for new writer. This year’s writer, Jeanette Ng, gave an amazing acceptance speech which has caused some controversy as a result.

You can watch it here and I do recommend that you do because it is quite something. There was a lot of cheering when she starting speaking and more at the end. But it has put some people’s noses out of joint as they feel she was lacking respect for the honour she was given. I say, fuck that. She has every right to use the platform she was given to speak about this issue. I love how diverse the genre is getting these days in terms of voices, but it was not always so. Go look at the award winners for all the previous years for the Campbell, or the Hugos (and other awards for the genre) and count how many of them are white men. John Scalzi wrote an excellent post in defence of Jeanette, which you can read here and it is well worth a look. I appreciate that he has used his platform to defend her.

For years getting anywhere in the genre if you were not a white man was nigh on impossible. John W Campbell would likely be horrified by the fact that Jeanette has been able to have a voice in the genre at all and she is absolutely right to call this sort of thing out. Even now, it’s not easy to get published if you are not male and harder still if you are not white. I have heard too many authors tell stories of being turned down, not because of the quality of their work but because they “already have one of those” meaning perhaps an Asian inspired fantasy, or an African one, as if after decades upon decades of fantasy rooted in our white, Western culture we can’t have too many books that don’t fit that mold.

Fuck that. Some of the best Science-fiction and Fantasy I have read in recent years has been written by people of colour and rooted in cultures that are not my own and I fucking love it. And looking at who won the Hugo Awards, I am not the only person who loves the diversity that we are getting. This isn’t to say I have stopped reading white men altogether, but they have to be more than mediocre to get my attention when there is so much other excellence around.

But as to the other winners, they were overwhelmingly women, many of whom were people of colour, all of whom deserved their place there. I was pleased that so many of my first choices won, though I do not begrudge the ones that weren’t from their win. Still it makes me really happy because the winners and nominees were chosen by fans. Fans overwhelming picked a short-list that was this diverse and included queer people in it. I watched Becky Chambers pick up her Hugo for best series wearing a suit (and looking fucking amazing as she did it). I watched the first deaf-blind person win a Hugo and also a fan archive set up to help diverse writing in fan-fiction win.

It was an incredible night for diversity, an incredible night that lifted up people who have long been ignored or passed over for others. It gave me hope for where the future of the genre is going and maybe, just maybe, the future of society as well.

And as for keeping politics out of the genre, politics have always been part of it, right from the start (and not always left-wing politics either). What people usually mean is they don’t want identity politics in it, they don’t like it that they see themselves less than they used to.

I want all of the voices. I want to read things written by queer people, by people of colour, by trans folk, by disabled people, by neurodiverse people. I want characters of all those voice too, written by people who either know personally what they are writing about or are willing to put the effort in to get things right.

As for the awards. Maybe we need to look at who we have named them after and if the person’s legacy is not one we want to support, perhaps renaming it would be a good idea. Where are the awards named after Octavia Butler, or even Mary Shelley? There’s a Bram Stoker award for horror, but nothing I could find for her.

Jeanette has challenged us to do better and I think we can do so, awards have been changed before now and they can be again. The genre is changing for the better and it would be good if the awards we give out could reflect that legacy too.

Hugo Short Stories

Stories:

Well here we are at the end of the reading I did for the Hugos. I will do one last post covering other categories I voted for, but after that it will be back to reviews. I may do something from WorldCon, but I am not sure if I will actually find the time to do so, especially since I will need to write and post from my phone so we will have to see how that goes.

I have to say that this was an excellent bunch of short stories and there weren’t any of them that I didn’t enjoy so I highly recommend that you check them out, they are all linked above.

The Court Magician

A street kid becomes fascinated with street magic and gains the attention of someone in the court who offers him a choice, he can stick with the street magic or learn real magic but there will be a cost for it. The story then follows his choice and the consequences of it.

It’s well told and has a very interesting premise at the heart of it regarding the nature of power and what it can cost to use it.

The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society

A group of supernatural creatures sit around and lament about the Scottish lass who stole their hearts and dumped them.

I enjoyed this, I always like tales of positive female sexuality. The author should learn that a Scottish shape-shifting creature that sometimes looks like a horse and likes to drown people is called a Kelpie, not a Pooka. Otherwise a very fun story.

The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington

George Washington was famous for having a set of false teeth. I must admit I don’t know the history of them, but I do know that slave teeth were often used for them so it is certainly a strong possibility that they were.

Anyway, the story is basically telling the tale of the people the teeth were taken from and it’s wonderfully written, given a voice to people often overlooked. Very well done story.

STET 

One of the most unusual short stories I have come across given the form it takes is of notes between an editor and the writer of a piece written about the effects of driverless cars. It is deeply personal and quite raw, especially given how it’s presented. Excellent piece of writing and well deserves it’s place on the list.

The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat

I have to say that the story title alone is absolutely fantastic. The story itself is the strangest of fairy tales about, well, pretty much what the title says it is. Empowering, well written and a whole lot of fun.

A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies 

This story is about a librarian, who is also a witch, trying to work out what she should do about one of her regular customers, a young boy who is desperately seeking escape from the life he is trapped in.

I found this story struck a deep personal chord with me and I was actually trying at the end of it. Beautifully well written and honestly explains the reason why I love fantasy worlds so much and also why the idea of portal fantasies spoke to me on such a deep level growing up.

I have to say that choosing the order for these was really, really hard. I dropped the two less serious tales to the bottom, but both of them were still excellent. In the end my choice was between A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies and The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington and I ended up going with the first one, largely because of how personally I felt the story.

But seriously, this is such a good list of stories, it makes me really keen to read more short stories to be honest if this is what the field is like currently.

Hugo Novellettes Part 2

Books:

As promised here is part two of the Novellettes post, including my round-up and who I voted for in the end. As before there are links to those of the stories that you can read online for free.

HarmlessThe Only Harmless Great Thing

Well this is not at all an easy story to read and I do not say that lightly. That isn’t to say it is a bad story, but it deals with unpleasant subject matter so if you do seek to read it, be aware of that before you start.

The story is interwoven between the story of a radium girl working in a factory and her interactions with an elephant worker, both of whom are getting sick with radiation; stories from elephant history; a future meeting between elephants and humans regarding the use of elephants as radiation warning symbols.

All of the threads come together in the end and the story balances various elements involving corporate greed, how connections are made between one incident and a whole group of individuals and the harm that can do. Like I said, it’s not an easy read but it is well done and I certainly felt the power of the tale, brutal as it is.

Ghost storiesThe Thing About Ghost Stories

I have to say that I am a big fan of ghost stories so I was interested in this one just by the title. It follows a woman who is going aroung asking local people for their ghost stories for research for a book she is writing. On the way some of the people she meets tell her that she has her own ghost who is trying to communicate with her.

It’s a very personal story where the pursuit of ghost stories gets tangled up with the main character and her dealing with the loss of mother, first to Alzheimers and then when she died.

Dealing with grief and loss is never easy and I liked how the story wove strands of the personal along with the weird, it works really well as a contrast and to make the story matter more to the reader.

StarlessWhen We Were Starless

This one is a pretty weird story, partly because the protagonist is a lizard woman from a very strange civilisation. There are a lot of terms and cultural nods that are confusing at first, but I do like the way that the story unfurls them, it combined keeping you interested in the background and the story with not info dumping everything in a way that makes no sense for the characters or setting.

The tale follows our protagonist, who is a scout for her clan who can also put ghosts to rest. During one of these missions she encounters something near where her clan are camping that is one of the most dangerous kinds of ghosts, but it begins to talk to her and soon she has to choose between learning more about the things that the ghost can tell her or obeying the laws of her tribe.

It’s very well told, compelling and has some surprises in it that are very well deployed. The pacing is excellent and you learn a surprising amount about the main character for such a short piece of writing. It’s definitely worth a read if you get the chance.

Roundup

Well there we go, all my mini reviews of the novellettes are now done so I thought I would explain my voting and why I chose the way I did. I have to say that overall it was not an easy choice to make, they are excellent stories and well deserving of their place in the shortlist.

  1. “The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections”
  2. “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again”
  3. “Nine Last Days on Planet Earth”
  4. “When We Were Starless”
  5. “The Thing About Ghost Stories”
  6. The Only Harmless Great Thing

Above is my order of voting. The top was because I loved the juxtaposition of the temporal pastries with the flashback memories and the way they brought out the story. Beautifully told, excellent described and with excellent deeper meaning. Zen Cho’s story was such a close second because of the positivity of the tale. The next three it was incredibly hard to decide on an order and I could easily have put them another way. The only reason the one in last place is there is because given all the stuff in the world, I really wanted something more positive to win and the story is so bleak that I just couldn’t love it as much as the others.

Hugo Novellettes Part 1

Books:

Running later with this than intended due to being wiped out at the weekend and not having had a free evening yet this week to get this written up. But here we are, time for my first part of the Novellettes I read for the Hugos, the second one to come soon.

As a note, if you want to read any of these there are links above to them all and you can read them for free. There is also an excellent audio version of The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections on the Cast of Wonders podcast which is well worth a listen.

SucceedIf at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again

So this story follows an imugi (a Korean lesser dragon) in their quest to become a fully fledged dragon, failing a number of times over thousands of years (each attempt can only be done once every thousand years).

Along the way their path meets that of Dr Leslie Han and they end up more entangled in human affairs than they would ever have thought possible.

I will not go into more detail than that because it would be too easy to spoiler this story and I absolutely do not wish to do that! It’s a beautiful tale and honestly it really got to me emotionally. I was quite teary by the end of it. I mean to be honest, given how much I love dragons this story was always going to get to me on some level, but it actually got me on several levels and I absolutely adored it.

Please read it, it’s well worth a look and an excellent start to what was a category full of excellent stories.

TemporalThe Last Banquet of Temporal Confections

With this one, I actually heard half of the Cast of Wonders audio version of it before I got to reading the category, but had to finish it in the text as the second one wasn’t going to be out when I needed it to be. I have now heard both parts and definitely worth a listen.

The story is about a land where it is now ruled by an oppressive regime. In this land there is a baker and his wife, he has developed a way of making pastries that trigger memory responses in those who eat them and the rule now holds banquets for their court with the pastries as a central part.

One of the most impressive things about the story is the way it uses the premise of the pastries as a vehicle to explore how events led up to the banquet at the centre of the story. It also deals with ideas of revolution and the quiet ways that people can resist an oppressive or harmful government.

There are parts of the story that can be hard to read at times, though it is in no way graphic about it, but it does resonate with elements of our current political situation and is very well told.

Nine Last DaysNine Last Days on Planet Earth

In this tale we follow LT, a young man in an alternate version of history where a meteorite shower seeds the earth with strange plants that seem to be from another world.

The story entwines him growing up, dealing with his sexuality along with the growth of the plants and humanity’s struggle to deal with the problems caused by them.

Again, I don’t want to go into too much detail about what is going on with them because it will spoil the story and it is something anyone can read for free.

There was a lot I liked about the story, it’s always nice to see positive gay representation and this does that very well. It’s also an unusual take on an alien invasion that reminded me a little of Rosewater by Tade Thomson (which is also definitely worth a look), though not quite the same scenario and definitely not the same sort of ending.

The Black God’s Drums (4*)

Book: The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

drums“Fighting it has to be like trying to push back a flood. In my head, Oya laughs. You can run from those old Afrikin goddesses. But they find you when they ready.” 

So I am around half way through the novellas for the Hugos now and this one is something I hadn’t even heard of. I must admit I don’t tend to read a massive amount of novellas and the quality of the works I have been reading for the Hugos is telling me that perhaps I need to change that as I have been loving this category so far.

This story follows a young teen known as Creeper, a street kid living in New Orleans in an alternative history/fantasy version of the United States of America where the Civil War has not ended, but New Orleans is a free port run by ex slaves after an uprising.

What Creeper really wants is to see the world beyond her city though and she manages to see a chance when she overhears a conversation and seeks to sell the information to a ship called the Midnight Robber and its Captain, a woman called Ann-Marie.

Creeper has another secret though, other than the one she seeks to sell. She carries some of the power of Oya, an orisha of wind and storms and the goddess has her own agenda regarding what is going on.

I really loved how well this novella does its worldbuilding. It covers a lot in a very short space of time and does so in a way that makes sense and doesn’t feel like you’ve been hit over the head with the plot exposition stick. It’s also a very fascinating setting that draws you in and makes you want to learn more about it and the people who live in it.

I also loved that not only is the main character female, but almost all of the important speaking characters are and that was amazingly refreshing to the point where I was assuming that the author must be female and was pleasantly surprised to find that this is not the case. Also one of the main character is a black, lesbian airship pirate and that is really fucking cool. The characters were also well done, given the shortness of the story and whilst I would have loved some more depth on many of them, it was a good introduction.

One thing I was a little unsure of was in regards to the use of language. The story is told from the perspective of Creeper who is not very well educated and some of the language is clearly how she speaks and thinks, which gives it a very distinctive voice in a good way. But then the words she uses to describe things are then sometimes more sophisticated than I usually would expect from a character with little education. She is described as smart though so it may not necessarily be entirely out of character and I also understand the author needing to balance the voice of the character with weaving the setting in the best way and the use of language really helped to bring it to life so if that is why the word choice I cannot entirely fault him for it.

The story does also have some small moments that do surprise you, though there’s nothing in it that is not also set up in some way in the text (which is not a criticism, I honestly think they made excellent use of the form here).

A part of me feels a little guilty for giving it only four stars, but the ending is a little bit too rushed (I know it’s a novella but I would have liked to see a little more of the resolution than I got). But I definitely enjoyed it and I may well look at getting more by the author and I really do hope they write more of this setting (I had a brief look at their other work but I couldn’t see anything that looked the same) as I would love to read more of these characters and the world (or the world with new characters).

Every Heart a Doorway (5*) and Beneath the Sugar Sky (4*)

Books: Every Heart a Doorway and Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan Maguire

every heartEvery Heart a Doorway

“You’re nobody’s doorway but your own, and the only one who gets to tell you how your story ends is you.”

A friend of mine actually bought me Every Heart a Doorway for my birthday as she knew how desperate I was to read a fantasy with an asexual protagonist (that and the premise distinctly appealed to me).

Whilst the novella that is in the list is the third book in the series, Beneath the Sugar Sky, since I was behind in my reviews anyway I figured I would review both of these at the same time. And you may have noticed I have not included the second one on here, I haven’t read that one yet but you can easily read the third one after the first with no difficulties.

The setting for the series is the modern day in a school for children who have come back from going to other worlds through various doors and are struggling to adapt to being back in the world of their birth.

The main protagonist for the first book is a young woman called Nancy who is a newcomer at the school. She has returned from an underworld where everything was quiet and still and struggles to deal with the noise of the world she is in now. A murder a the school not long after she arrives leads other to wonder if she is the killer and now she has to help find out the truth of what happened or perhaps risk the new home she has found here.

So, to start with, as I mentioned before the main reason I wanted to read this book is because of the asexual protagonist. I have not read many things that I get to see this aspect of myself in, so unless the book fucked up that representation it was going to be hard for it to be something I would dislike. I am saying this as it is possible that my high praise for the story comes in part from the emotions this book gives me for Nancy and how excellent she is.

I could wax lyrical about the various varieties of identities on the asexual spectrum, but that would significantly derail things but if you want to learn more, please do google the subject, there’s a lot of good resources out there and I would suggest starting with AVEN (the asexual visibility and education network). Nancy is a heteroromantic asexual, which means she is romantically attracted to the opposite gender, but doesn’t look at them and want to have sex with them. So we’re not quite the same thing, but that doesn’t matter, having her sexuality confirmed without a fuss and it not being everything the story is about is wonderful.

“Their love wanted to fix her, and refused to see that she wasn’t broken.” 

To be fair, I do also love that the story is a murder mystery and the premise of the setting is absolutely fantastic. I grew up reading portal fantasies and few of them really deal much with what it would be like to come back having had an entirely different life elsewhere only to have to try and adjust to life here with no one believing you about where you have been and why you are different now.

The setting is vast in terms of how many doors there seems to be and whilst we do not get massive details for all of them, the author does a damn good job of making them feel like real, internally consistent realms from what we do find out. The story is also an excellent analogy for found families over born ones.

Those who go through the doors tend to do so because they are in the wrong world and they find what they are missing there. This can echo for people who grew up isolated and bullied for having interests that weren’t shared by others, for those whose sexuality or race set them apart, or being neurodiverse or being trans or non-binary. This is the other reason why the book called to me so strongly. I have often felt I don’t properly fit into the world and the idea of finding somewhere that fits and then losing it is both beautiful and heart-breaking.

Beneath the Sugar Sky

sugar

“You are not a cake, you are a human being, and I can see your vagina”, snapped Nadya.

The stranger shrugged, “It’s a nice one, I’m not ashamed of it.”

Now we get to the one which is actually up for Hugo consideration. This is the third book in the series, but the story follows on fairly well from the events in the first book (as mentioned above) and that works really well.

I will say that even the premise for the third book is something of a spoiler for things that happened in the first one so I am actually going to put pretty much the whole of the rest of this review under a cut as I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone.

So probably best to read on only if you either have read the series (or part of it) already or having plot points to stories spoilered is not something that remotely bothers you. Either way, consider yourselves suitably warned!

Continue reading

Hugo Best Novel Roundup

Best Novel nomination list

  • The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
  • Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton / Harper Voyager)
  • Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)
  • Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente (Saga)
  • Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik (Del Rey / Macmillan)
  • Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga)

OK, first things first I am going to address the elephant in the room here. If you have been reading my reviews of the nominations for Best Novel you may notice that I have only done reviews for four out of six. This is because I failed to finish Space Opera, which I will explain a little about later on. I have not yet read Revenant Gun because I have only read the first in the series and I want to read some of the other categories in full before I make any attempt at the series, which means that for now I am leaving it off my list to prioritise other things.

So onto explaining about Space Opera. I tried reading this book, the premise sounded absolutely fascinating and honestly I haven’t read much science-fiction comedy in a long while. People likened it to Douglas Adams’ books and I am a big fan of those so I really expected to like it.

Unfortunately I found the language use really put me off. The long paragraphs and overly wordy sentences managed to lose some of the humour for me as I kept having to re-read things to try and work out what the actual intention was, which was basically like having someone explain a joke to you and really does kill the humour. I gave it a good few chapters but in the end I decided that since I was not enjoying it and therefore very unlikely to vote for it, I was better abandoning it and moving on to other things and I honestly do not regret that choice. I am not saying that the book is awful and no one will like it, I am saying that this book is most definitely not for me.

That leaves us with four books left. If you have been paying attention to my ranking system you will note that both The Calculating Stars and Trail of Lightning received four stars from me, which means that much as I really enjoyed both books they are not getting my vote in this category (it was a good field though).

Which leaves it between Record of a Spaceborn Few and Spinning Silver. Much as I am a huge fan of Becky Chambers and her writing. Her characterisation is absolutely excellent and her stories are just so warming to your core in ways that I honestly don’t experience enough these days, I think for me I will have to put Spinning Silver over it. The use of language, the way Naomi Novik weaves the plot, it was just so superbly done that I cannot but wish to see it win.

My winner: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik.

Spinning Silver (5*)

Book: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

spinning silver“But the world I wanted wasn’t the world I lived in, and if I would do nothing until I could repair every terrible thing at once, I would do nothing forever.” 

Another one in my series of Hugo reads. I actually bought this one in paperback when I finished it because I loved it that much.

The story starts off following Miryem, the young daughter of a moneylender whose father is too kind to collect on his debts leading them to live in poverty. When her mother gets sick she takes over collecting to ensure she can actually care for her family.

It turns out that she has a knack for it and she turns around the family business, commenting that she can turn silver into gold. Unfortunately for her this boast is overheard by a race of creatures bound to the winter and hungry for gold who want to use her abilities for their own ends.

The book actually has a number of different narrators, mostly women, adding more voices as the story goes on. If I have any complaint at all about the book, it’s the fact that some of the narrators didn’t entirely feel necessary to me and at one point it actually took me a moment to work out whose point of view we were seeing things from, which threw me out of the story for a moment.

But mostly what I loved was that this book gave us several very well realised female characters, with their own problems, motivations and story arcs and the crossover between them was handled very well. She managed to balance showing us the troubles that women of the time might go through, without making them perpectual victims and also whilst still sticking to the very well done fairytale atmosphere of the book.

“There are men who are wolves inside, and want to eat up other people to fill their bellies. That is what was in your house with you, all your life. But here you are with your brothers, and you are not eaten up, and there is not a wolf inside you. You have fed each other, and you kept the wolf away. That is all we can do for each other in the world, to keep the wolf away.” 

I was very impressed at how she blended a feeling of realism in the way the characters acted and how the setting works, especially how well she conjures up a sense of cold (and deprivation at times). I felt entirely swept up into the world she created and it was honestly a book I struggled to put down at points.

Previously I have only read the first of the Temeraire books (which I did very much enjoy), but this is so much better than that. I have been told by others that Uprooted is even better and if that is the case then it really must go up my priority list to read because honestly this was such an excellent book. I must admit I am a sucker for modern fairytales (well written in the modern era in this case) so this book was entirely up my street, the feminist leanings just made it even better.

One of the other main things I feel I need to mention is the clever way that she twists the stereotypes of the Jewish moneylender and actually does something positive with it. Given the loaded history of such characters and how often they have been used to harm the Jewish community, it was really pleasant to see them reclaimed in this manner, especially given that anti-semitism seems to be once again on the rise at the moment. A timely book and well deserving of its place in the Hugo nominees.

Trail of Lightning (4*)

Book: Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

trail of lightning

“Everything you’ve done, your past, it’s all just a story you tell yourself. Some of it is true, but some of it is lies.” 

Continuing on with my Hugo reads, this is one that I have wanted to read for a while since I heard the premise of it so I was pretty pleased that doing Hugo voting has given me a chance (as far as I know it’s not out in the UK in paperback yet and I don’t buy e-books).

The book follows Maggie Hoskie, a monster hunter and a supernaturally gifted fighter. When she helps a small town deal with a monster problem is sets her on a chain of events to uncover who created the monsters and why.

She teams up with Kai Arviso, a medicine man, and together the two of them need to unravel this mystery and Maggie will also have to face up to something from her own past that she would rather avoid.

One thing this book does do is use a lot of Navajo language words from the start, but it does it in a way that you can understand them easily enough from the context of what is going on so I felt that they added, rather than subtracted from the story. Especially for this one where the characters are likely dual language so them thinking in two different languages for different terms makes a lot of sense and adds to atmosphere.

“We were safe. Safe from the outside world, at least. But sometimes the worst monsters are the ones within.” 

In terms of the overall premise this does seem on the surface like a fairly standard urban fantasy just one based in a culture we might not often see stories told in. For me it does go a bit deeper than that, looking at not only questions of belonging but also at what makes a monster and what makes a hero. Whilst looking at these questions is also not entirely revolutionary the book deals with it really well and overall produces an excellent story that has you guessing at what is going on.

It plays a lot with the idea of are people what they appear to be on the outside, the main character dealing with issues which makes her think that she is a monster or could easily become one. Her loneliness and isolation is shown quite clearly from the start of the book and how much her own trauma has harmed her in her relationships with others.

My main complaint with this book is whilst there are some other female characters within the story, the main focus is with Maggie and her relationships with male characters and that did frustrate me a lot. I do have reason to think from how things end that this may change going forward in the series so we shall have to see.

I am hoping that the nominations that this book has achieved will lead to the author’s books becoming more easily available in the future because I know that this book is just the beginning of a series and I am quite fascinated with where it will lead.

Empress of all Seasons (4*)

Book: Empress of all Seasons by Emiko Jean

empress“Do not let your fear decide your fate.” 

I picked this up as part of my ongoing effort to read things set in at least a background of non Western cultures, especially ones written by PoC. When I read the blurb for this one I was pretty captivated. Japanese mythology is something I do not know nearly as much about as I would like (see previous rants about the lack of decent mythology books for so many cultures) so I was definitely interested to read something inspired by it written by someone of Japanese decent.

It also has a very beautiful cover, which never hurts to attract me (I am a magpie that way). Seriously, look at that, it’s gorgeous.

But anyway, the book is the story of Mari, who is part of a group called the Yokai, who are considered to be monsters and are not looked well on by most people in the Empire. She has trained for a long time to take part in the competition to win the Prince’s hand and become Empress. Taro is the Prince of the Empire and struggles with his position as it stops him from following his own passions and hates that he must be a prize. Akira is an unusual man in that he is half-Yonkai and half-human. All three of them have a part to play and their decisions may change their Empire.

“Our bodies are not ornaments, they are instruments.” 

Well first of all I loved the idea of women competing for the Prince so they can become the next Empress, it’s such a fascinating reversal of the usual tropes of women being a prize for men and it’s very well executed as a premise.

The worldbuilding was also well done, I felt like I could see the society and the people within it very well. The characters also felt quite real for the most part, a little light in some places, but generally well done and that includes some of the secondary characters.

Pacing wise it does get a little weird in places and speeds up towards the end in a way I would have preferred to be a bit more drawn out. Still, the way things wrap up mostly fits with the characters and their behaviour through the novel up to that point and I generally found the conclusion satisfying and leaving me wanting perhaps a bit more of it.

The book does deal with some deeper issues regarding both the enslavement of people and discrimination and dehumanisation and does it well. I also appreciate female friendships playing a strong element in the story, too often those can get sidelined in favour of connections with the men in a female character’s life but that isn’t done here.

“You should want to be better for yourself, not for someone else.”

My biggest complaints were perhaps that some things felt a little shallower than I would have liked. It’s hard to explain what I mean without examples and I don’t want to do that in the spoiler free part so more on that below.

Overall it was good though, I would guess it’s pitched at a YA audience but there is enough to enjoy for adults too.

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