Something I don’t often review today! I generally don’t read as many short story collections or anthologies as I used to. I’m trying to improve that this year and as part of trying to read as much books as I already own this year, I felt it was time to read all the N.K Jemisin on my shelf. This was definitely the best choice.
In these stories, Jemisin sharply examines modern society, infusing magic into the mundane, and drawing deft parallels in the fantasy realms of her imagination. Dragons and hateful spirits haunt the flooded city of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a parallel universe, a utopian society watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes. A black mother in the Jim Crow south must figure out how to save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises. And in the Hugo award-nominated short story “The City Born Great,” a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis’s soul.
So one thing that I am surprised to say is that not a single one of these stories weren’t fantastic. As in usually you have a collection or anthology, you will always have a mix of stories that you enjoy and ones that didn’t hit the mark. As Jemisin says herself in the introduction to the collection, short stories allowed her to experiment with other formats, tenses and characters she might not otherwise get to explore in novels. Especially for writing black characters in a very white genre. So just to kind of pay out my thoughts, I’ve rated each in individual story to give you an idea.
- The Ones Who Stay and Fight ★★★★/5
- The City Born Great ★★★★★/5
- Red Dirt Witch ★★★★★/5
- L’Alchimista ★★★★/5
- The Effluent Engine ★★★★★/5
- Cloud Dragon Skies ★★★.5/5
- The Trojan Girl ★★★/5
- Valedictorian ★★★★★/5
- The Storyteller’s Replacement ★★★★/5
- The Brides of Heaven
- The Evaluators ★★★★/5
- Walking Awake ★★★★/5
- The Elevator Dancer ★★★/5
- Cusisin des Memoires ★★★★/5
- Stone Hunger ★★★★★/5
- On the Banks of the River Lex ★★★★/5
- The Narcomancer ★★★★★/5
- Henosis ★★★/5
- Too Many Yesterdays, Not Enough Tomorrows ★★★★/5
- The You Train ★★★★★/5
- Non-Zero Probabilities ★★★★/5
- Sinners, Saints, Dragons and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters ★★★★★/5
It makes me genuinely so happy to be able to rate so many of these stories so highly. Something that thoroughly impressed me was the smooth changes in genre between stories. Valedictorian is an example, a story about a dystopian world where high school students are taken each year by the aliens that run society, noone knows where they go. Our protagonist pushing herself to the best possible grades from a combined uncertainty and a need to be the exception to the rule. That is miles away from the thrilling historical epic of The Effluent Engine. Set in 1800’s New Orleans, we follow a woman working as a spy, posing as a chemist on behalf of the Haitian revolution. She soon realises the sister of her client, might be more than the typical mark. Two of these are absolute stand outs in what is a very impressive collection of worlds, scenarios and people that absolutely linger long after the story is over.
One thing through nearly all the stories is of course the discussion of the Black experience, including racism and being Black in America. A story I reviewed before, The City Born Great, which went on to become her most recent novel. The story follows a young Black man living on the streets of New York. He openly mentions how he hides from the police, how they blatantly go out of their way to make his life harder. This carries over to my personal favourite, Red Dirt Witch. This one to me is in the vein of Nalo Hopkinson, following a local witch as she prepares for the arrival of a being known simply as ‘The White Lady’ and her attempt to shield her daughter from the insidious power she brings with her. This one is set in Alabama, not specific about the time period, but it’s clearly another historical setting. Both stories are filled with the anger and raw determination to show people that we need to do better. We should have been doing it all along. But starting today will still make a difference.
I honestly am dying to get to Dreamblood Duology nexty. I know the Broken Earth trilogy is the shining light in Jemisin’s back catalogue but the story The Narcomancer (which is Dreamblood 0.5) has me inching towards that for now. If you’re someone who doesn’t like short stories usually, this would definitely be the best place to start, as well if you want to read Jemisin as an author. You will be filled with rage at the end though, but then again you could start making that difference with it. Thanks for checking in guys, happy reading!