All the things the boy will do, I promise to do better. In all the ways he can love you, I promise to love you better.
Ijeoma is eleven years old when the Nigerian Civil War breaks out. Eleven, when her father dies in the subsequent bombings that ravage her Igbo village. Eleven, when her mother sends her away to live with a grammar school teacher and his barren wife—whether for Ijeoma’s safety or out of the grief her mother has yet to cope with, Ijeoma herself cannot say. And she is eleven, living at the grammar school teacher’s, cleaning up and tending his home, when Ijeoma first finds love in the young Hausa girl that comes to live with them.
Under the Udala Trees is a subtle, slow burn that pays off emotionally in every conceivable way. From the onset of the Nigerian Civil War to Under the Udala Trees’ quiet and satisfying ending, we are dropped into and left to ruminate on Ijeoma’s world where the expectations of an only child—a girl child, at that—are monumental and the future she sees for herself as an independent woman freely living with her female lover, is inherently antithetical to how those around her would see her: dutiful student, dutiful daughter, dutiful Christian, dutifully working her way to being an equally dutiful wife. The constant push and pull of these warring ideas creates a beautifully, sometimes painfully, layered experience.
Are you not magnificent? Or you will be, one day. But first, you must earn your beauty.
N.K. Jemisin’s entry into the Forward Series—a series of short stories featuring noted SFF authors—is, in a word, masterful, seeking to answer the titillating question of what would happen if Earth got to the point that it was truly uninhabitable? If, in a last-ditch effort to save humanity, the elite, the best, left, taking themselves to the stars to start anew?
This premise is not one that is new in speculative fiction. It is not even outside the realm of reality, when we have men like Elon Musk existing in our timeline, and the notion of colonizing nearby planets like Mars isn’t entirely novel. Space is, after all, the final frontier, and humanity is ever seeking to expand beyond the natural boundaries given to it.
Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze, the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years, collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.
Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.
If there’s ever a book that combines phenomenal world building, poignant character development and characters, and untouchable commentary that spans systems of oppression, racism, power imbalances, and climate decline, it’s The Fifth Season. N.K. Jeminisin is a veritable powerhouse of a writer. Her prose is as tight and beautiful as her story is mesmerizing.
It’s gritty. It’s dark. But in terms of how well a fantasy can take something that is truly as dark as systematic oppression and slavery and adequately handle its complexities and nuances, that grittiness and darkness is every bit earned and used to its fullest potential. Parts of this book made me put it down, because for as unique and utterly alien the world of the Stillness is, it is so harrowingly real that it’s hard not to react viscerally when reading. This wasn’t to The Fifth Season’s detriment; I think the point was to react, and to react deeply.
In my quest to read more graphic novels, I was really excited to get my hands on Her Infernal Descent, a modernized retelling of the Divine Comedy. Unfortunately, my excitement for the novel started and ended with the premise.
Let’s get into it.
The Run Down
Her Infernal Descent follows mother and wife, Lynn, after the accidental deaths of her husband and children. Visited in the depths of depression by the spirit of William Blake—a call back to Dante’s visitation and guidance by the poet Virgil—Lynn descends through the layers of hell on a quest to retrieve her family’s souls. She encounters the prolific Judge K who turns out to be Franz Kafka, the great beast Cerberus with five heads instead of three, and the lord of hell himself along the way in her journey to bring her family back.
There’s something to say about a piece of literature that pulls every emotion out of you over the course of reading. I’ve only read a handful of books that have managed to do that for me, and when I came across this book earlier this year, I couldn’t believe that not only did this book just happen to exist in the same timeline that I did, but that it was the debut from a very talented author. The only thing that I regret is the fact that it’s taken me so long to get around to reviewing it, as well as sharing the amazing interview that I was able to snag with Dawn Adams Cole, the author.
Let’s talk about one of my favorite reads of the year, Drops of Cerulean, and see what Dawn Adams Cole had to say about it, her process, and what she hopes readers gain from her words.