Mini-Reviews: Tanith Lee, N.K. Jemisin, Marie Brennan

Mini-Reviews: Tanith Lee, N.K. Jemisin, Marie BrennanBlack Unicorn by Tanith Lee
Series: The Unicorn Series #1
Published: August 15th 1993 by Tor Books
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 188
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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I live in the US, and it’s been a tough week (understatement of the year). And I can’t process it yet, and am trying to avoid the more political parts of the internet for my own mental health right now. But what I do know is that I’m going to need this blog more than ever now, because the book blogging community is frickin amazing. Seriously, you guys rock.

Now, onward to some mini-reviews of books I’ve been reading but took way too long to talk about. Pardon any incoherence, and please blame any typos/rambling on Donald Trump.

First on the list is The Black Unicorn, by Tanith Lee. There’s a little girl, and she’s the daughter of a sorceress. Mother and daughter don’t understand each other, and Tanquil is frequently left to her own devices. One day she finds the skeleton of a unicorn in the desert, and Tanaquil’s life is forever changed. She is swept away from her home, where she learns her own inner strength and her place in the world.

The Black Unicorn is less dark than the other Tanith Lee books that I’ve read. It fits more squarely in the fantasy genre, whereas her other books tend to veer into horror. But this is fantasy with unicorns, clockwork, and automatons, which gives the whole thing more of a steampunk vibe than anything else.

Speaking of clockwork, one of the things I enjoyed the most is that Tanaquil is an engineer. When she’s bored and lonely, she tinkers and fixes things. And one of the central messages that I got from The Black Unicorn is that everyone’s magic is different, and that some people are traditional witchy sorceresses, and other people are tinkerers, and that our differences are something to be celebrated and embraced because the world needs all of us to be whole.

 

Mini-Reviews: Tanith Lee, N.K. Jemisin, Marie BrennanThe Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth, #2) by N.K. Jemisin
Series: The Broken Earth #2
Published: August 18th 2016 by Orbit
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 448
Format: Paperback
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Next on the agenda is The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin. It’s the second book in the Broken Earth Trilogy, which is set in a world with a magic system based on seismic activity. Oh, and there are rock people, and the rock people sometimes eat people.

The Obelisk Gate far surpasses The Fifth Season. It doesn’t jump around so much in time and space, which makes the narrative a lot more cohesive, and I’m way more invested in the characters. In this book, we mostly see Essun and Nassun’s point of view as each of them tries to stay alive. Essun is in a settlement that embraces her orogeny (magic), but even though they claim to be accepting and inclusive, the stress of the apocalyptic Fifth Season is eating at everyone, and a house divided cannot stand. And then there’s Nassun, whose is fleeing with her father after her father killed her brother when he realized he had magic, and Nassun has magic too and is trying to keep her father sane enough that he doesn’t kill her too.

I finished this book right before the election. I loved The Obelisk Gate, and thought it was one of the best books I’ve read all year. I don’t think I could have gotten through it if I had started it this week, as it is way too real. But that’s what good SF/F does–it uses other worlds to tease apart societal issues and explore them in a setting that isn’t our own, and to do so while telling a damn good story.

 

Mini-Reviews: Tanith Lee, N.K. Jemisin, Marie BrennanA Natural History of Dragons (The Memoirs of Lady Trent #1) by Marie Brennan
Series: The Memoirs of Lady Trent #1
Published: February 5th 2013 by Tor Books
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 334
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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And last but not least, A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan. It’s told as a memoir from the perspective of Isabella, Lady Trent, a pioneering naturalist reflecting on her adventures during a time where women were supposed to be wives and mothers rather than scientists. Ever since she was a child, Isabella was fascinated by dragons, and as she grew up she increasingly despaired the life her gender roles had cursed her to. But the she meets her husband, who is also a scientist, and the two of them embark together on an excursion to Vystrana, a land inspired by Eastern Europe that has been plagued by dragons attacking the countryside.

I love Isabella’s “sorry not sorry” matter-of-fact tone that she takes as she tells her life story, and also the way she looks back and can say “I was young and stupid and in retrospect that was a terrible idea.” You see a woman who has led a fascinating life and made some wicked cool scientific discoveries, but who is looking back at her own life in hindsight. And the other thing that fascinates me in A Natural History of Dragons is that Isabella feels like a woman of her time. She doesn’t feel like a modern-day feminist who is transported to the past, but rather a fully fleshed-out character with a fuckton of cultural baggage that shapes her worldviews. For example, she’s very self-centered and looks down on the village women and doesn’t even think of them as people with goals and aspirations and hopes and dreams for almost all of the book, and even then, she doesn’t quite get it. She doesn’t see imperialism as a problem, and acts with hubris and entitlement. And it’s interesting, because she’s simultaneously likable and annoying, and that just because she’s fighting against gender norms doesn’t mean she’s a progressive person with progressive views. But it’s Isabella’s imperfections that make her feel so real.

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4 comments

  1. Isn’t The Black Unicorn part of a series? It sounds very good but I also want to read N.K.Jemisin.
    Yes, it’s been an awful week. “Over here” in Europe we feel just as bad.

    1. Mind blown! It wrapped up so neatly that I just kind of assumed it was a standalone. Now I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll come across the others. 😃

  2. I’ve got to get to the Marie Brennan books some time. I have the first two, with their lovely Todd Lockwood covers, and I know because of my reading tastes that I will really enjoy them. Just need to make the time.