Book Review – The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

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Goodreads Synopsis:

THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS. AGAIN.

Three terrible things happen in a single day.

Essun, masquerading as an ordinary schoolteacher in a quiet small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Mighty Sanze, the empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years, collapses as its greatest city is destroyed by a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heartland of the world’s sole continent, a great red rift has been been torn which spews ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

But this is the Stillness, a land long familiar with struggle, and where orogenes — those who wield the power of the earth as a weapon — are feared far more than the long cold night. Essun has remembered herself, and she will have her daughter back.

She does not care if the world falls apart around her. Essun will break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

Review:

Firstly, I can’t believe how long it took me to finally get around to reading this series! It’s been on my TBR list for ages and I decided back in April last year that it was going to be my Bingo pick for the “Dying Earth” square and I just kept getting distracted. I’m so glad I finally read it though as it’s incredible.

The worldbuilding is fantastic, we get small snippets of information at the end of each chapter that I always love as they give us small glimpses of the world and its history. The first book is told through three POVs and rotates between them. There is Essun, the mother who is desperate to save her daughter, Syenite the Orogene who is to learn from a new mentor and Damaya a student studying at the Fulcrum which is where Orogenes are trained. Through each of their POVs you are able to get a glimpse at the world that the novel is set in. The three POVs also take place at different moments in history with Essun’s story being in the present day while the other two give you background information as to how the world ended up in this state.

The magic system, that of orogenes, is something that I really enjoy. I love interesting magic systems and although we don’t really find out too much about how it actually works it’s still fascinating and the parts that involve the use of orogeny are of particular interest to me.

Characterwise, the fact that Essun is a mother is something I really enjoyed. It’s rare to have a mother as the main character in a Fantasy novel and so that was a nice refreshing change. All of the characters are really well developed and their relationships with each other are brilliant. Several of the characters are also queer and have romances throughout the trilogy (I’m saying trilogy here as I can’t remember when some of them start, but there’s definitely at least one in the first book)

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and indeed I absolutely devoured the next two to complete the trilogy as I just couldn’t put it down. I would highly recommend this to any Fantasy fan, and to those doing Bingo it’s a perfect choice for the “Dying Earth” square. It’s also a great pick for anybody trying to read books by Black Authors for Black History Month and just an amazing book in general.

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Book Review – Juniper Leaves by Jaz Joyner

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Kinky-haired blerd Juniper Bray used to believe in magic, until she lost her best friend: her grandmother. Now this 15-year-old shy girl is going on her dad’s research trip to a farm hundreds of miles away to stay with a family she barely knows and the opposite of a best friend, her new arch nemesis, Bree McKinney. Little does she know the next few months Juniper will discover magical powers she never knew she had, stumble into her first crush and well, quite frankly, save the world.

Juniper Leaves is a fantastical coming-of-age tale of a girl who learns to let go, live a little, and best of all, believe in herself — all by her sixteenth birthday.

Review:

So, I saw this recommended a few weeks ago on Twitter and just loved the name. I then saw the cover and adored it and since I was looking for a new Kindle Unlimited book it seemed perfect!

Juniper is an adorable “blerd” (black nerd) who is dealing with the recent loss of her grandmother. Her and her cousin, Breen, discover that they have magic powers and need to protect the Earth from enemies from a different plane of reality. The plot itself isn’t that complicated, it’s a rather standard “chosen one gets powers and saves the world” but well, something doesn’t have to be complicated to be good. I enjoyed the worldbuilding and the magic system, although not super fleshed out, was fun. It’s nice to have a light, fun story every now and then and this was definitely that.

What I was not such a big fan of though were the characters. That’s a lie, they’re actually all great but at the start, Juniper and Bree do not get on for what seems really ridiculous reasons. Juniper thinks Bree is awful and is incredibly rude to her and it just…doesn’t make sense. Thankfully once we get past this to where they start bonding, it’s much better. I think the fact that it’s in the first person didn’t help this part because we see Juniper’s thoughts and instead of helping us understand her reasoning, it just made me more annoyed at how she was treating Bree just because they’re not very similar.

As is obvious by the fact that Juniper is described as a “blerd”, the main character in this is Black. Not only that, but most of the other characters are her family and so are all also black. There’s also a f/f relationship that occurs later on in the book and so if you’re looking for something nice and diverse, this is definitely something to add to your TBR!

If you’re looking to read more books by black authors for Black History Month then I’d definitely recommend this as a nice light read. It’s good for those that enjoy Fantasy set in our world and I saw it recommended for those who enjoy “magical girl” stories.

Book Review – Second-Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta

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Goodreads Synopsis:

A poignant story of a resourceful Nigerian woman who overcomes strict tribal domination of women and countless setbacks to achieve an independent life for herself and her children.

Review:

This was the final of the three Buchi Emecheta books I took out from the library which I saved until last due to the fact that this one was set in 1960’s London rather than in Nigeria. This focuses on the story of Adah, a young woman who fulfils her dream of moving to London only to discover that there, due to the colour of her skin, she is regarded as a second-class citizen. She works hard at a library and raising her five children while her husband is lazy and relies on her for her income. While in the hospital after giving birth, he barely even visits and is not supportive of her dreams to become a novelist.

This tale, focusing on a Nigerian immigrant, is actually based on the life of the author herself and it includes discussing the writing of her first novel, The Bride Price, and of the events that eventually led to her leaving her husband. It was particularly powerful due to the fact I knew it was all based on a true story and it was a very interesting insight into the life of a Nigerian immigrant in London and the struggles associated with that. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Adah’s journey and despite knowing how things turned out, due to it being autobiographical, I still really enjoyed it all and loved the ending.

Buchi Emecheta was a remarkable woman and an excellent writer and I would definitely recommend her novels. If I had to pick just one, it would definitely be this one but I find it hard to imagine that after reading this, readers wouldn’t be interested in reading more of her work.

Another thing to recommend this novel is the fact that it also fits perfectly for challenge number 4 of BookRiot’s Read Harder challenge – as it was both written by an immigrant, focusing on the story of an immigrant.

Book Review – The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord

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Goodreads Synopsis:

For years, Rafi Delarua saw his family suffer under his father’s unethical use of psionic power. Now the government has Rafi under close watch but, hating their crude attempts to analyse his brain, he escapes to the planet Punartam, where his abilities are the norm, not the exception. Punartam is also the centre for his favourite sport, wallrunning – and thanks to his best friend, he has found a way to train with the elite.

But Rafi soon realises he’s playing quite a different game, for the galaxy is changing; unrest is spreading and the Zhinuvian cartels are plotting, making the stars a far more dangerous place to aim. There may yet be one solution – involving interstellar travel, galactic power and the love of a beautiful game.

Review:

Before I start my review, I need to make it very clear that this book is a sequel to The Best of All Possible Worlds and so I recommend not reading this if you’ve not read that because it may contain minor spoilers.

So, as I said this is a sequel although it’s more a companion novel than a direct sequel as it focuses on a minor character from the first book and although several of them do appear in this, it’s only as small cameos and not for very long.

In the first book, Rafi’s father was discovered to be abusing his Psi abilities and was arrested and Rafi, having similar abilities, was sent to a school to learn how to control himself. This book starts off with Rafi at the school where he is very interested in a sport called Wall Running. He then runs away from the school to another planet, Punartam, with his friend Ntenman where he starts making connections and learning about the society there which follows some strict rules regarding social connections. As we follow Rafi and his journey, a lot of things are going on in the background in the galaxy and Rafi ends up involved with these events due to his skills.

It’s hard to review this book as there are some things I absolutely adored, and some things I really didn’t enjoy. For example the book would often change perspectives between different characters but would not make it clear this was happening. It would have been a bit nicer for this to be made more obvious as although I was able to quickly spot it most times, it did sometimes take me a sentence or two to realise that it was now Ntenman’s POV rather than Rafi’s. Another thing is that I just didn’t connect to the characters the same was as I did to Delarua and the rest of the crew from the first book. I found it interesting reading about them, but I didn’t feel so engrossed in their lives that I had to know more. Indeed, I kept reading not for Rafi but for the worldbuilding which continues to be excellent and I really enjoy all the glimpses of the different planets and societies in this Galaxy. I also enjoyed the fact that it was a Sci-Fi novel that focused a lot on a sport as that’s something I don’t often see and so was quite refreshing. I definitely grew to enjoy the book more as I read, and I feel that having read it once, a second read-through would make it more enjoyable (indeed I re-read the very beginning which made a lot more sense after reading and did enjoy it a lot more than the first time where I was slightly confused)

So yes, this is a difficult book to discuss as although I did end up really enjoying it, it is very different from the first book and I can definitely see it disappointing a lot of people who are expecting a direct sequel. As I said, the worldbuilding in it continues to be excellent and I would still recommend it because of how much I like Karen Lord but I would want to make sure people are aware of what they’re getting into. I did notice a lot of negative reviews based on the fact that people didn’t realise it was a sequel  and I can definitely understand that as although it could stand alone, it’s going to be a lot more confusing if you don’t already know the information about the civilisations we learn in the first book.

Book Review – The Bride Price by Buchi Emecheta

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Goodreads Synopsis:

A Nigerian girl is allowed to finish her education because a diploma will enhance her bride price, but she then rebels against traditional marriage customs.

Review:

So, this is the second of Buchi Emecheta’s books that I’ve now read and this one was also fantastic. It’s set during the 50’s in Nigeria starting in Lagos then moving to Ibuza and looks at the customs surrounding marriage.

The book starts with the death of Aku-nna’s father due to an foot injury he sustained during the war. This means that his family can no longer afford to live in Lagos and so they all return to Ibuza to life with her uncle. Aku-nna and her brother Nna-nndo both continue their education at school as it is believed that the more educated Aku-nna is, the higher a bride price will be paid for her. However, while waiting for her to begin menstruating and thus be old enough for marriage, Aku-nna falls in love and is determined to marry the man she loves despite the opposition from her family.

I really enjoyed this book and watching Aku-nna as she grew and dealt with the issues in her life. It was a very interesting look at the cultural practices and beliefs of the people of Ibuza and the effects that had on the people of the area.

Again, I would definitely recommend this book to learn more about what was life in 50’s Nigeria for young women in Ibuza. Again, it had a very powerful ending and definitely left a strong impact on me.

Book Review – Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Paama, who is a great cook, has returned to her family after 10 years of marriage to the gluttonous Ansige, but two years later he hires the master tracker Kwame to find her. Kwame needs the money to finance his own wanderlust and reluctantly takes the job. These events draw the attention of Chance, the Indigo Lord, one of the powerful spirits called Djombi. The Indigo Lord once wielded the power of Chaos, imbued within the Chaos Stick, but to punish him it was taken from him and given to Paama. Now he wants it back, and he has all sorts of elaborate schemes planned to induce Paama to give him back the Chaos Stick. The narrator, sometimes serious and often mischievous, spins delicate but powerful descriptions of locations, emotions, and the protagonists’ great flaws and great strengths as they interact with family, poets, tricksters, sufferers of tragedy, and – of course – occasional moments of pure chaos.

Review:

So, this was another book from my list of Sci-Fi/Fantasy books by Black Women and I picked it up because I absolutely adored reading The Best of All Possible Worlds and just had to read more by Karen Lord. Not to mention the fact that the cover for this edition is absolutely beautiful!

Anyway, the story follows the life of Paama and what happens when she receives a stick imbued with the power of Chaos. She has fled her husband, Ansige, back to her family village where he eventually tracks her down with the help of a tracker. After several days and several embarrassing incidents caused by his gluttony (such as stealing corn then falling into a well) he leaves and sends a servant to ask Paama to return to him. Instead however, a djombi takes the form of the servant and gives Paama the chaos stick. The lord of Chaos wishes to get his stick back so arrives at the village and courts Paama’s sister, whom he mistakenly believes is the one with the stick. When he figures out it is Paama, he attempts to take the stick from her but is unable to and so he sets about convincing her that it belongs with him.

The story is charming and I really loved Paama and indeed all the characters in the book. But what really stands out about this novel is the writing style. It’s written in a way that really evokes oral narrative and you can imagine sitting around a fire listening to somebody recite this tale. Indeed it was so compelling and readable that I sat down and didn’t stop reading until I’d finished it in one sitting as it’s so easy and enjoyable to read.

I would highly recommend this book as it was just a delight to read and I can see it appealing to a lot of people. Thanks to this and her other books, Karen Lord is definitely now one of my must-read authors! I should also add that this book would be a perfect choice for number 19 on BookRiot’s ReadHarder challenge as Paama goes on both a spiritual and a literal journey!

Book Review – Dancing the Death Drill by Fred Khumalo

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Paris, 1958. An Algerian waiter at the famous restaurant La Tour d’Argent is convicted of the murder of two customers. As he is awaiting trial, his long-time friend Jerry Moloto helps an opportunistic and ambitious journalist build a case to defend him.

Through Jerry’s testimony the reader discovers that the waiter is actually Pitso Motaung, a mixed race South African drafted to fight in the First World War. He is also one of the few remaining survivors of the SS Mendi tragedy, which saw the formidable warship sink off the coast of the Isle of Wight, killing 646 people, including many black South African soldiers. So how did a brave soldier become a criminal and will Pitso’s name be cleared before it is too late?

Commemorating the 100th year anniversary of the sinking of the SS Mendi, Dancing the Death Drill is a timely novel about life and the many challenges it throws our way.

Review:

I received this as an eARC from Jacaranda Books, and was first drawn to it because of the stunning cover. I’d not read any Historical Fiction in a while, and this sounded particularly fascinating as I’d never heard of the SS Mendi before this and I really enjoyed reading Salt to the Sea last year about another navel disaster, that of the Wilhelm Gustloff which I had also not heard about before reading the book.

The novel starts off with Pitso serving customers in a restaurant when suddenly he stabs two of them to death and calmly waits to be arrested. A reporter tracks down a friend of his to learn his life story and from there we go right back to the Boar war, following first the story of his father and mother then Pitso right through from when he was a child until he enlists on the SS Mendi and the events that surrounded the sinking and the aftermath of that.

The book was very well written and it was clear that a lot of research had gone into it, and I was particularly pleased with the end where the author discussed his research and even included a suggested further reading section.

Pitso was an excellent character, I really loved reading about his life and the difficulties he faced due to his background. The rest of the characters were all very well written and I really enjoyed the use of language in the book – both the way it was written, and the inclusion of several languages that the characters spoke (the main two being Sesotho and Zulu). The mix of various South African languages really helped immerse you in the novel and I enjoyed seeing the interaction between the different cultures.

I was a huge fan of this book, and ended up staying up until almost 3am to finish it as I just couldn’t put it down. I would highly recommend it to everybody and it also works really well for a variety of challenges that are running – it works as a “Book about War” for Book Riot’s challenge, it’s a South African book for those doing Read Around the World challenges and could count for several squares on #DiversityBingo

Book Review – Imperium in Imperio by Sutton E. Griggs

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Self-published in 1899 and sold door-to-door by the author, this classic African-American novel—a gripping exploration of oppression, miscegenation, exploitation, and black empowerment—was a major bestseller in its day. The dramatic story of a conciliatory black man and a mulatto nationalist who grow up in a racist America and are driven to join a radical movement dedicated to the creation of an all-black nation in Texas, Imperium in Imperio had a profound influence on the development of black nationalism.

Review:

This was the first book I read from my list of five free books by black authors and I’m very glad I chose it as it was a very good, very engaging read and a fascinating insight into the views of Sutton Griggs at the end of the 19th century. I also feel it is a very important novel regarding Black History, and would definitely recommend it as reading for Black History Month.

As the synopsis says, the novel follows the story of two men from childhood as they grow up in the American South. Belton is the son of a poor mother who recognises the importance of education and ensures that he attends school and learns as much as he can. One of his classmates, Bernard, is the son of what appears to be a single mother but is later revealed that his father was white and for appearances sake, can not acknowledge his wife or son however he uses all his resources to help him succeed. The two children are both incredibly intelligent and upon graduation, Belton goes to Stowe College while Bernard attends Harvard. The two eventually meet again when Belton gets into some legal troubles and again when he invites Bernard to join the Imperium in Imperio, an organisation dedicated to supporting their fellow black citizens and attempting to better their lives.

Throughout the novel, both characters have to deal with a lot of racism, both institutional and personal. It’s particularly noticed when Belton is in Louisiana where they are even more racist than his home as he is ejected from the first class carriage on the train that he was riding. The novel addresses issues that face those that are educated as they are blocked from most jobs requiring a degree due to the colour of their skin, but they can’t take menial labour jobs as they are too educated as it would be seen as throwing away their education. The themes of this novel are very strong and both characters have very strong views on the empowerment of their race although they differ on how this equality is to be achieved.

The story alone is an enjoyable read and the writing is very good, however the underlying messages and ideas are incredible and I really enjoyed the emphasis it placed on the importance of education. This is definitely a fantastic and worthwhile read and I would definitely recommend it to everybody.

Book Review – The Slave Girl by Buchi Emecheta

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Goodreads Synopsis:

The Slave Girl follows the fortunes of Ogbanje Ojebeta, a Nigerian woman who is sold into slavery in her own land after disease and tragedy leave her orphaned as a child. In her fellow slaves, she finds a surrogate family that clings together under the unbending will of their master. As Ogbanje Ojebeta becomes a woman and discovers her need for home and family, and for freedom and identity, she realizes that she must ultimately choose her own destiny.

Review:

I first heard of Buchi Emecheta when she passed away and resolved to read at least one of her books, if not more, for Black History Month. I ended up with three out from the library and this just happened to be top of the pile when I was looking for my next read.

The story begins with Oganje Ojebeta being born and her father, having previously lost many daughters during childbirth, has gone and got charms to hang around her arms and back in order to protect her. Unfortunately, disease comes to their land and both her parents pass away. Her brother, Okolie, brings her to their rich relative and sells her for the small sum of £8. Ojebeta must now adapt to life as a slave along with a group of other young girls. The book follows Ojebeta as she grows up and then as an adult, how she deals with the death of her master.

This story is set in the early 20th century in Nigeria, not long after the British have taken control. The novel was very immersive with excellent descriptions and interactions between the characters. One thing I really enjoyed was the ending, which I won’t say much about as I don’t wish to spoil it, but it was very powerful and was the perfect way to end the story.

I would definitely recommend this book to those wishing to read more Nigerian literature as it gives you an excellent insight into the culture and about the treatment of women at that time period. It’s quite a quick read and is very much a “just one more chapter” book as you just keep wanting to find out what will happen to Ojebeta and I couldn’t put it down until I finished!

Book Review – Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

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Goodreads Synopsis:

When a massive object crashes into the ocean off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous and legendary city, three people wandering along Bar Beach (Adaora, the marine biologist- Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa- Agu, the troubled soldier) find themselves running a race against time to save the country they love and the world itself… from itself.

Told from multiple points of view and crisscrossing narratives, combining everything from superhero comics to Nigerian mythology to tie together a story about a city consuming itself.

‘There was no time to flee. No time to turn. No time to shriek. And there was no pain. It was like being thrown into the stars.’

Review:

So, this was the first book from my post on SFF by Black Women that I managed to read, and I loved it! As the synopsis says, it focuses on three people who happen to be in the same place at the wrong time and how they cope with the fact that an alien ship has landed just off the coast of Lagos. Each of the three have a mysterious power that will help them in this adventure.

The three characters lives become intertwined as they work to find the missing president and deal with one of the aliens. The story jumps around a lot, between different POVs including even those of sea creatures dealing with the changes the ship has brought to them.

One thing I really loved about this book was the setting. So many books have the first contact as being in the USA or the UK and so it was really refreshing to see it located somewhere else and how it differs. The book itself mentions how if it were the USA, the government would have rushed in and controlled everything while in Nigeria the main characters actually have a chance of getting the alien to meet with the president. The book also includes dialogue in pidgin English which helps with the immersion and there was a useful glossary at the back which helped make sense of a lot of it. Finally, the book also included several LGBT+ characters although they didn’t appear too much in the novel and were mostly just in a few scenes. I would have liked to have seen more of them and found out what happened to them, but the focus was more on the aliens rather than on them.

I would definitely recommend this book – it was really refreshing and an excellent novel dealing with “first contact”. I really enjoyed the writing and would definitely like to read more of Nnedi’s work – especially Binti as I’ve heard so many great things about it.