So for the next few days I am going to talk about this novel. It is unique in that it is a fantasy novel written by a black woman. Black women are not as scarce in the speculative fiction field as some would have you believe. But that’s why R.R.A.P. exists; to promote authors of color. So without further ado, let’s get this show on a role….
Man the world building in this first chapter is amazing! I’m jealous of how effortlessly I have been pulled into this world. Our author so expertly gives you names and concepts without it ever once feeling like an information dump. This world is rich and fascinating right from the jump and it started off in the right way by showing what the main character actually does.
Ehiru strikes me as an interesting character. What I’m guessing so far is that he’s the reluctant hero who uncovers some very uncomfortable truths about his profession which also seems to be an extension of his religion. There are some moments in this first chapter when he is genuinely a sweet guy and I think he’s very comfortable in his societal role. But part of me feels like there is an edge to him, evidenced by how quickly he snaps on one of his “clients”.
This is such a strong start to a story. I’m already hooked into this brand new world.
Interlude 1 and Chapter Two
So we learn a little bit more about the world here and some of the mythology behind it. I loved the whole Sun chasing the Moon story. It reminds me of some Native American tales I have read and how they speak of the Sun loving the Moon. The author really went there when she got down to the Sun masturbating but it was well done and didn’t come across as gratuitous. It seemed almost Biblical in the way it was described.
The purpose of this Interlude is revealed in Chapter Two when we’re introduced to Sunandi and the Prince. It becomes very clear that Sunandi represents the Moon and the Prince is the Sun in terms of their interaction. It is very cat and mouse and Sunandi clearly has the upper hand by allowing the Prince to think he has it. And even when sex did happen, it was on Sunandi’s terms. That alone instantly made me like her as a character. She never once had to be described as a strong woman and that’s good writing folks.
What I also like about this Chapter is that the author isn’t going to string us along and make us wonder if Gujaareh is a corrupt place. She comes right out with it in the very beginning and gives us immediate tension. Other writers might have sat on that revelation in an attempt to have it be some big twist at the end, but this author doesn’t take that well-traveled route. No, the problem is shown right away and there’s no question that this story is already firing on all cylinders.
This chapter introduces a new character named Nijiri. He’s an Acolyte looking to become a Gatherer like Ehiru. The guy’s a bit of a prick to be perfectly honest. He’s sure of himself, his abilities and his destiny in becoming a Gatherer. He achieves that, but not after undergoing some heavy scrutiny. That particular bit of the chapter struck me as special because the author is tackling quite the serious issue. Yet, as you are reading it you don’t feel like you’re being preached to. The issue is just being laid out there for you without pretense or assumption. The topic is pedophilia, in this case from a teacher/student relationship. Nijiri refuses to allow himself to be labeled as a victim and I found it was in this bit that I enjoyed the character the most.
We’re also introduced to the other Gatherers in this chapter; The Superior, Sonta-i, and Rabbaneh. The Superior is the leader of the organization and I like that Jemisin didn’t choose to make him larger than life. I’ve seen that happen in a lot of fantasy stories where organization heads are made into these impossibly imposing figures. Sometimes it works and it is necessary, but I enjoy that the author chose to take a different path. Sonta-i is the imposing one and based on some of his detached behavior, I would gander a guess that he’s either been through some kind of emotional trauma or he suffers from a mental illness. He seems to be almost completely lacking in anything approaching empathy. Rabbaneh serves as the balance, seemingly the most normal of the Gatherers; at least from Nijiri’s eyes. I have a feeling that assumption might get played on later.
Overall, a good chapter. We’re still early in the game so I see that the pieces for this chess game are being set.