Ahoy there me mateys! I have read five of the author’s novels but had never read any of her short stories. N.K. Jemisin has been making waves by doing cool things like winning the Hugo award three years in a row for every book in her Broken Earth trilogy (which I haven’t read yet!). So when I saw she was publishing this short story collection I got excited. And after listening to the audiobook, I can say that I adored it.
This collection has 22 varied tales. Now here’s the thing, for the majority of these types of collections I tend to find them to be a mixed bag. In this magnificent book, I loved 19 of them, loved but didn’t quite understand 1, and enjoyed but didn’t love 2 of them. But I actually thought all of the tales were great. Seriously, this never happens. Part of this was also due to the excellent narration by Shayna Small, Gail Nelson-Holgate, Robin Ray Eller, and Ron Butler.
I don’t want to spoil the magic of the stories and can’t really do them justice with me own paltry words but I will try to give ye an idea of the bare bones of the stories and me thoughts on me favourites.
Side Note: In looking at Ms. Jemisin’s website’s bibliography, many of these stories have blurbs there. I will use those well-written descriptions in quotes and italics here where applicable. The words outside of the quotes will still be me own thoughts. Arrr!
“The Ones Who Stay and Fight” – This be one of the stories that I thought was well-written but didn’t love. It showcases parallel worlds where one seems to be ours and the other is a utopia. I have been told it might be related to an Ursula K. Le Guin story that I haven’t read. The author lists Le Guin as an influence on Goodreads. I loved the concepts but it felt like the speaker was given the reader a lecture. This might have been the point.
“The City Born Great” – “The rebirth of New York into an ancient battle, by the hand of its reluctant midwife.” I thought this story was fantastic. It did take me several minutes to get into the flow of it but then I was mesmerized. I thought the imagery was vivid and stark. Yet poetic and beautiful. The chasing cops are intense. New York feels alive.
“Red Dirt Witch” – “The White Lady is coming for the future of Emmaline’s family, but the red soil of Alabama grows a different sort of magic in defense.” This was another powerful read. Two women, one white and one black, struggle for control. The white woman has the upper hand due to racial prejudices and white dominance. But Emmaline is determined to save her family despite the imbalance of power. There is sadness and hope in this story. The layering of concepts was awesome.
“L’Alchimista” – “On a snowy Milano night, a stranger walks into a restaurant with some very strange ingredients. Is Franca chef enough to cook them? You better believe she is.” I absolutely loved this one! I loved the mystery of the ingredients. I loved the playful yet serious feeling around the cooking. I am not a foodie and yet I still wanted to try some of Franca’s creations. And the ending of this story rocked. Hooray for cooking magic!
“The Effluent Engine” – This was originally in a collection of lesbian steampunk stories. Awesome. The tale is a “swashbuckling adventure-romance set in 1800s New Orleans with secret societies, derringers, and bustles.” This was excellent. It dealt with dirigibles, spies, science and two kick-ass women. I would totally want these women on me crew. Arrrr!
“Cloud Dragon Skies” – “The sky has turned red and the clouds now dance. A tale of the Earth’s final days.” I loved the descriptions of the skies in this one. It is a love story. It is a tragedy. It was quirky and cool.
“The Trojan Girl” – “The wolves of cyberspace are on the move, hunting for a little girl who is more than she seems.” Okay, so this is the well-written story that I just didn’t get completely. Avatars and dreaming and code. I also read this story in addition to listening to it. I still love it and I still don’t understand all of it. It’s not the writing’s fault. It is me silly noggin missing something. It happens.
“Valedictorian” – “In the universe of “The Trojan Girl”; YA dystopian cyberpunk. Humankind, an endangered species, eats its own.” While in the same world as the previous story, this one made a lot more sense for some reason. I kinda loved it. I wouldn’t mind getting more of this character’s story in the future.
“The Storyteller’s Replacement” – This was very strange and I can’t really explain it without spoilers. I did love it. It was just so weird!
“The Brides of Heaven” – “On the planet Iliyin, a colony of women struggles without men. Is a mysterious pool of alien water a blessing from God, or a deadly curse?” Curse. I think.
“The Evaluators” – “Someone’s fast-tracking the trade agreement with an alien world. Further study is warranted.” Basically humans are dumb. The ramifications of this one are fun.
“Waking Awake” – “Long after the conquest, slaves still find ways to fight back.” This had a strange, scary world that I would not want to live in. I did love the protagonist in this one and how she fights back. It was not an easy choice and I had such admiration for making it.
“The Elevator Dancer” – A watchman grows infatuated with a woman who dances in the elevator when nobody else is present. Is she dancing for him? I really liked the concept of his one even if I was left with unanswered questions in the end.
“Cusine de M moires” – A man eats a meal at a restaurant with a menu that the world has never seen. The layers of this story were delightful. The mystery of the chef led to unexpected places. I thought this story had a perfect ending.
“Stone Hunger” – “In the hungry twilight of a volcanic winter, a hunter stalks her prey.” This story was so odd and delightful. I don’t quite understand the snippet of world-building in the story and how it works. And yet I wanted the hunter to get her prey and survive. I was rooting for her.
“On the Banks of the River Lex” – “Life after people, with cephalopods.” I love cephalopods. This story features Death. It is a dystopian. It is super fun. The ramifications of the ending are rather astounding.
“The Narcomancer” – “An evil master of sleep-magic torments a small village in the land of Gujaareh. Cet, a priest of the Dream-Goddess, must overcome both the narcomancer and his own temptations to survive.” I loved this one! So many complications and strong characters. Fun plot. Great ending. Excellent magic.
“Henosis” – “A famous author, hoping to win a prestigious award, is kidnapped by his greatest fan.” I don’t think this be an award I want want to win. But really was kidnapping a better choice? It might have been.
“Too Many Yesterdays, Not Enough Tomorrows” – “Can love survive the end of the universe?” A weird loop world with weird consequences. I loved it.
“The You Train” – “Dead trains. Trains that never were. If one of them stops for you, will you get on?” This might be me other favourite of the collection. I just loved the voice of this one. I wouldn’t mind knowing the protagonist. I want to know where she ends up. And all the information about the subway system made me hanker for the days of living in NYC. Not that I loved the subway then. But living in a place without public transportation now makes me nostalgic. This was clever and awesome.
“Non-Zero Probabilities” – “Falling air conditioners, projectile Italian Ices, derailing trains, luck gone haywire. Just another day in the big city.” This was kinda sweet and hopeful. I liked hearing about all the zany happenings in NYC. It made me smile. This was another story where I wondered what happened next.
“Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters” – “In the flooded streets of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, a young drug dealer faces horrors both existential and magical.” This was a fantastic ending to the book. Though I missed the whole title and didn’t get the dragon thing. I thought the lizards talked about were like iguana’s with wings in me noggin. That said, this story just felt so real. Even with the lizards!
If ye be a N.K. Jemisin fan, this should tickle yer fancy. If ye aren’t familiar with her work then this might be a good place to start. Some of the stories are also available on her website for free if ye want to check out her writing style. I love her. Plus I highly recommend listening to this one if ye can. Arrrr!
Goodreads’ website has this to say about the book:
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.
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