Science Fiction and Fantasy Mini-Reviews: Octavia Butler, N.K. Jemisin, and V.E. Schwab

Last month I read the final book in two trilogies, and I began a new one (that is really an old one).  I’ll start with the new one.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler is such a fantastic writer.  She wrote one of my favorite books this year, Bloodchild.  This one, Parable of the Sower, was a bit harder to get into, but once I did, I was hooked.  In some ways, this is very much a typical apocalypse-road-trip-coming-of-age story.  Be warned, this is not about zombies; it’s more of a total collapse of government, economy, and social structures that I found disturbingly plausible.  Lauren Olamina is a teenager who’s grown up in a walled neighborhood that’s getting more dangerous by the minute.  She has a condition called hyperempathy which means when she sees someone injured, she feels their pain.  What makes this book more complex is that Lauren is developing her own religion.  It comes to her in bits and pieces, and she writes it down and tries to make sense of it.  In the meantime, everything she knows and relies on is falling apart. I’ll admit that the religion part almost put me off at first (of course the book title suggests that’s what you’re getting yourself into).  But as I read on it’s nicely integrated into the story and works with the character.  This was a gripping read at times, but it also has a slower, more thoughtful pace than other dystopian stories. Think Station Eleven meets The Girl With All The Gifts.  And if some of it feels like you’ve seen it before, remember that Butler wrote this in 1993, well before most of today’s apocalyptic tales.  And it will feel very, very relevant today.

Interesting side note: This was meant to be a trilogy.  Butler started the third book but never finished it.  See this interesting article about the books here.  And, I just discovered that her papers are all at the Huntington Library in California, a place I’ve been to many times.  Sadly, they had a big Butler exhibit this year from April to August. Sigh.


The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

Every year there’s one book I really hate to admit that I didn’t love.  I wanted to.  I loved the first two books, probably the first one more because the world-building was so fascinating, and the way Jemisin tied together her three main characters.  Like a lot of trilogies, Book One was mostly world-building and character development, and then Book Two took the story to a new level but was also somewhat transitional.  I wanted to be wowed by Book Three.  Instead, I found it disjointed and hard to follow.  I guess in Books 1 and 2, when I didn’t fully understand something, I chalked it up to 1) the complexity of the writing, 2) my lack of geologic understanding (certainly a factor), and 3) Jemisin’s approach of revealing things gradually to the reader.  But in Stone Sky I felt frustrated.  There’s a future narrator telling the story, and in this book that narrator has more of a story, but it didn’t really work for me.  The conclusion should have felt compelling but didn’t.

I do think Essun was an interesting character.  She’s looking for her daughter Nassun, but she has a mission that she recognizes is more important, and one that will probably take her life.  Nassun is heartbreaking at times (but I wanted to like her more).  She’s been abandoned by one parent, and manipulated and threatened by the other one.  She’s seen her brother killed, she has powers she doesn’t understand, and she has no idea who she can trust.

Now, I’ve heard nothing but raves about this book, from both critics and readers, so it may just be me. Jemisin’s writing demands concentration and thought (that’s a good thing) and maybe I didn’t give this book the attention it deserved.  Still, the story just didn’t grab me the way it did in The Fifth Season and continued to in The Obelisk Gate.


A Conjuring of Light by V. E. Schwab

Okay, here’s where I gush.  I fully expected this trilogy to be over-hyped.  Instead I found some of the most interesting, non-stereotypical characters I’ve seen in fantasy novels (which tend to rely very heavily on character tropes).  Delilah and Kell may be one of my favorite book pairs next to Claire and Jamie.

You’ve all heard of this series so I won’t go into the story much, except that it’s about four parallel worlds, and only a magical being called an Antari can cross the borders of these worlds.  One world has been destroyed by black magic, one world has no magic at all, and the other two struggle to balance their use of magic.

When it comes to trilogies, I usually love Book 1, and then Book 2 is pretty good, and often Book 3 is the least successful, because it’s got the tough job (see above) of wrapping everything up, connecting the dots, and ending a story you really don’t want to see end.  So I was very prepared to find Conjuring of Light my least favorite in the trilogy.  Instead I was riveted from page 1.  I raced through this book and would have happily spent several days doing nothing but reading, if that were possible (it wasn’t).

Schwab deserves all the hype for this series.  I want to meet her and thank her for writing it, and that’s a rare thing for me.


I hope you enjoyed these mini-reviews!  This may be it for actual book reviews this month, since I’m working on a lot of year-end posts.  This Tuesday will be my Best Books of 2017, so I hope you’ll come by and let me know what YOUR favorite book was this year.  Till then, what were your favorite SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY reads this year?  Mine were: The Power by Naomi Alderman, Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler, Conjuring of Light by V. E. Schwab (really the whole trilogy),  The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, and 1984 by George Orwell.

  10 comments for “Science Fiction and Fantasy Mini-Reviews: Octavia Butler, N.K. Jemisin, and V.E. Schwab

  1. December 9, 2017 at 12:56 pm

    Had to look back to see what fantasy and SF I read this year — it wasn’t a lot. Frankenstein, The Haunting of Hill House, The Fledgling, The Bear and the Nightingale, and Sailing to Sarantium were highlights.

    • December 10, 2017 at 6:36 pm

      I really need to read Fledgling! I’m glad to hear you liked it. I read Frankenstein a long time ago but I’d like to read it again.

  2. December 9, 2017 at 4:38 pm

    I, too, only recently learned about the Octavia Butler exhibition at Huntington Library. I live in Chicago and probably wouldn’t have seen it, anyway, but still….Currently, I am reading Fledgling and loving it!

    • December 10, 2017 at 6:33 pm

      I really need to read Fledgling! I used to be in San Marino, CA all the time, so it’s a shame I missed this.

  3. December 10, 2017 at 10:56 am

    That’s a shame about NK Jemisin’s last book, but you’re only confirming my impression that I really want to read Octavia Butler. Might start with Kindred, though.

    This year was a great one for sf for me. The ones that really stuck out were: A Field Guide to Reality by Joanna Kavenna, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, Good Omens, The Power (of course), Walkaway by Cory Doctorow, The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks, Life by Gwyneth Jones, Borne by Jeff VanderMeer, 2084 (a collection edited by George Sandison), Kraken by China Mieville, Gnomon by Nick Harkaway, and Come Let Us Sing Anyway by Leone Ross. (That was a lot, sorry!)

    • December 10, 2017 at 6:30 pm

      Kindred is great – and very different from her other books. You read a lot of great science fiction this year. I’ve been wanting to read something by Nick Harkaway, is that a good one to start with? Thanks for the recommendations!

      • December 11, 2017 at 4:56 pm

        I don’t really know, as it’s the only Harkaway book I’ve ever read! But I totally, totally loved it. Angelmaker might be less…I dunno, full-on? That’s the one I want to read next.

  4. December 18, 2017 at 12:45 am

    All of these are on my to-read list and they sound wonderful. So far, I’ve only read Kindred by Octavia Bulter and Vicious by VE Schwab, but I loved them both.

    • December 19, 2017 at 7:20 am

      I loved Bloodchild by Butler. Very different from Kindred, but both are fantastic. I was surprised Schwab’s trilogy lived up to the hype, but it really did.

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