Original, profane, and discomfiting.

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HEARTLAND

The debut novel by a 73-year-old Cuban-American playwright and activist.

This novel is singularly difficult to classify. Is it lesbian noir? Slapstick dystopia? Midwestern gothic? To say that it’s all of the above is not to exhaust the list of genres Simo straddles and, maybe, invents. The story begins in New York, where the narrator abuses drugs and lovers and lives off grant money while she’s supposed to be writing the biography of a 19th-century Latina author. Then she loses the ability to write, and her precarious life falls apart completely. A chance encounter with her nemesis, a SoHo art dealer named Mercy McCabe, gives the protagonist a renewed sense of purpose: she will take revenge on the woman who stole her dream girl, Bebe. The world these characters inhabit is not quite this one. A caliphate rules from Constantinople. When the narrator and her rival set out for the Midwest, they cross a landscape ravaged by widespread famine and roving bands of cannibals. In addition to this subtly sci-fi twist, there are elements of surreal horror, as McCabe undergoes inexplicable transformations. What holds everything together is Simo’s inventive and unapologetically irreverent voice, but the abandon with which she writes may prove problematic for some readers. One might argue that if anyone has earned the freedom to make liberal use of the word “dyke,” it’s a woman who has been active on behalf of LBGT causes since before many of her likely readers were born. Simo might have a similar claim to “fag” and “tranny.” As a Latina, she might be said to be reclaiming “spic.” But the sexualization of young girls—from 12-year-olds playing polo to 14-year-old Bebe—is a bit harder to take. Authors are, of course, free to use whatever language they like, and Simo is under no obligation to craft a likable protagonist or a comfortable narrative. But it’s hard to imagine anything beyond a very narrow audience for this novel.

Original, profane, and discomfiting.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63206-150-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Restless Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

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With every new work, Jemisin’s ability to build worlds and break hearts only grows.

THE FIFTH SEASON

From the The Broken Earth series , Vol. 1

In the first volume of a trilogy, a fresh cataclysm besets a physically unstable world whose ruling society oppresses its most magically powerful inhabitants.

The continent ironically known as the Stillness is riddled with fault lines and volcanoes and periodically suffers from Seasons, civilization-destroying tectonic catastrophes. It’s also occupied by a small population of orogenes, people with the ability to sense and manipulate thermal and kinetic energy. They can quiet earthquakes and quench volcanoes…but also touch them off. While they’re necessary, they’re also feared and frequently lynched. The “lucky” ones are recruited by the Fulcrum, where the brutal training hones their powers in the service of the Empire. The tragic trap of the orogene's life is told through three linked narratives (the link is obvious fairly quickly): Damaya, a fierce, ambitious girl new to the Fulcrum; Syenite, an angry young woman ordered to breed with her bitter and frighteningly powerful mentor and who stumbles across secrets her masters never intended her to know; and Essun, searching for the husband who murdered her young son and ran away with her daughter mere hours before a Season tore a fiery rift across the Stillness. Jemisin (The Shadowed Sun, 2012, etc.) is utterly unflinching; she tackles racial and social politics which have obvious echoes in our own world while chronicling the painfully intimate struggle between the desire to survive at all costs and the need to maintain one’s personal integrity. Beneath the story’s fantastic trappings are incredibly real people who undergo intense, sadly believable pain.

With every new work, Jemisin’s ability to build worlds and break hearts only grows.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-22929-6

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2016

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THE OBELISK GATE

From the The Broken Earth series , Vol. 2

In the second of a trilogy (The Fifth Season, 2015) by the science-fiction columnist for the New York Times Book Review, the latest in a series of apocalypses marches on.

The powerful orogene Alabaster has used his powers to tear a blazing rift across the continent, and humanity faces extinction. Finding refuge in the underground comm of Castrima, the now-dying Alabaster struggles to impart vital information and skills to his former student and lover, Essun, which could potentially cease the flow of the tectonically devastating Seasons. All the while, Castrima faces tension from within—those who fear Essun’s rapidly growing magical powers—and without, as an invading army prepares to take the comm’s dwindling supplies for its own. Although Essun’s greatest desire is to recover Nassun, the daughter she loves, the girl always wanted to escape her mother, whom she perceives as cold and who imposed harsh training to discipline and hide her daughter’s orogeny. Nassun willingly left with her adored father even though he murdered her brother and violently loathes all orogenes. This uneasy father/daughter pair travels to a mysterious, distant community rumored to “cure” orogeny, where Nassun discovers a key figure from her mother’s past—but he’s no longer quite what he used to be. The worldbuilding deepens in this installment, with fresh revelations about the distant past and the true and alarming nature of the enigmatic stone eaters. But as in the previous volume, it’s the people who take front and center. Jemisin’s depictions of mob behavior are frighteningly realistic. And she offers a perceptive and painful portrayal of two different kinds of abusive relationships between parent and child. She also generates huge amounts of nuanced sympathy for some (but not all) of the characters driven to do truly dreadful things, often accidentally, to save themselves and the ones they love.

Stunning, again.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-316-22926-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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