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Monday, June 20th, 2011 11:23 pm
Was gonna make a post about weight loss and my mood and meds and shit of that nature, but have decided not to because ugh.

"Ugh" is a perfectly valid reason. Do not even try to tell me otherwise. >:x

Instead, books! I recently finished Cat Valente's Deathless (which I meant to read back in March, but, well, ugh) and the first book in N. K. Jemisin's Inheritance trilogy, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

I've been a huge Valente fangirl ever since I saw her read at Wicked Faire 09, right when Palimpsest came out- something about the lushness of her prose and the vividly weird worlds she builds is like delicious candy to my brain. So the idea of a Valente treatment of a classic Russian fairy tale was incredibly exciting for me.

And lo, Deathless was excellent! But very different from Valente's other novels- it's a lot more straightforward and a lot sparser than I expected it to be. I do wonder if that comes partly from it making use of a real setting- parts of the book take place in Leningrad, leading up to and during WWII. As beautifully crafted as those pieces of setting were, they lacked the particular magic I've come to expect from Valente's worldbuilding- and even the parts of the story set in the magical kingdom of Buyan were missing some of that sparkle and lushness. When I read The Habitation of the Blessed, I was highlighting passages left and right for sake of the writing and the imagery; I only did that once or twice through Deathless. This doesn't mean the writing suffered, just that it wasn't taking center stage as much.

I'm not disappointed with the book, mind you- and it still feels like one of Valente's books in the end. And as far as feminist/woman-centered retellings of fairy tales with darker sexual under-and-overtones go, it's brilliant and gorgeous and heartbreaking, and I adore Marya Morevna as a heroine. I love that this reconstruction of the fairy tale brings all the sex and powerplay to the forefront in a way that is smart and sensitive and beautiful.

And I even love the ending, which I hardly ever do- it's not a happy end, precisely, but it's a good end. And the book feels like home in a way that Russian fairy tales always do for me, for all that I am kind of estranged from and ignorant of that part of my heritage. I grew up with firebirds in my head, and it always pleases me to see them elsewhere.

Deathless would probably serve well as an introduction to Valente, if you've never read her before and like fairy tales and chewy prose- it's a lot more immediately accessible than The Orphan's Tales, even if I don't think it necessarily shows off what Valente is capable of in terms of writing craft the same way her other books do.

I have an ebook of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, but I haven't managed to read it yet- I'll have to load it up onto the Kindle and get started on it soon.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms got off to a kind of slow start, as you get hit from all sides with worldbuilding! politics! scheming! rabid gods! more politics! occasional weird non-linear narrative breaks! a POV character who is occasionally incredibly unsympathetic, but nowhere near as unsympathetic as everyone else!

But then you settle in for the long haul, and once you hit that groove, it's awesome. I don't even know how to properly describe this book, because it isn't quite like anything else I've read, but it's exactly the sort of thing I've always wanted to read. The worldbuilding is brilliant and not at all just another generic high fantasy setting- as much fondness as I have for generic high fantasy, I love to see something new every now and again. And I have a huge thing for warring deities and cosmic dichotomies and gods and mortals rubbing elbows a little more closely than is healthy for anyone, I can't even begin to tell you. And twisty, ruthless politics, and racial diversity! Those are awesome. This book is awesome.

And by the end of the book, I really did love Yeine, with all her hard and bitter angles, and all the gods, with their tragedies. I'm not sure I'm ready to read the second book in the series, because it moves away from the characters I fell in love with in the first book, but I trust Jemisin to do amazing things with the new characters and the new world that was born out of the ending of the first book. (And how much do I love that, even though the book takes place over a fairly short period of time, with relatively little movement, but then at the end it pretty much upends the entire universal order of things? So much. I love it so much- the story moves like an avalanche, starting off slow and small, and then picking up speed and hugeness as more is revealed, up until the end, when bam! The whole game changes. I love that. It makes me really excited for the second book, even if I'm not ready for it yet.)

At some point, I need to bug the brother to lend me his copies of The Hunger Games, just because I keep hearing about them, and I do love me some post-apocalyptic YA. I also still need to read the sixth Temeraire book, and I have a dozen things I need to read for school yet, and a pile of books I borrowed from subdee and and and- and if I start actually making a list, it will terrify me into not reading anything for the rest of the summer. But I'm very glad I managed to make it through these two books, at least. Here's hoping I make it through a few more soon!