There is much to rue in this novel about our world but also hope for salvation: “I think we have survived because we love...

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FUTURE HOME OF THE LIVING GOD

The idea that evolution could suddenly move backward may seem like an incredible fantasy, but in this dreamlike, suspenseful novel, it's a fitting analogue for the environmental degradation we already experience.

A biological apocalypse has animals suddenly appearing in trippy, shocking manifestations—a dragonfly with a 6-foot wingspan, “golden-green eyes the size of softballs,” for example. Humans aren’t immune to “life dissolving into its mineral components,” which is why the new American government, the Church of the New Constitution, expands the original intent of the Patriot Act and requires all pregnant women to report to birthing centers. During a biological apocalypse set two months in the future, when the borders between Mexico and Canada are sealed off, Cedar Hawk Songmaker—26, pregnant, and with a burning independent streak—eventually learns why the government will do anything to ensure she has her baby under strict surveillance. Not all the pregnant women are as useful to the authorities as Cedar is, because they think she has a rare “normal,” unaltered fetus in her womb. Born Ojibwe but adopted by earnest white liberals in Minneapolis, Cedar is a flinty, determined, spiritual woman whose hesitance to trust others comes in handy in a world where suddenly no one should be trusted. And Cedar has three worlds to navigate: the one she was raised in and the Ojibwe family she is just coming to know, not to mention a United States ruled by a religious government in which a creepy, all-seeing, robotic figure named Mother hunts for Cedar. Framed as a letter to Cedar's unborn child, this novel is bracing, humane, dedicated to witnessing the plight of women in a cruel universe, and full of profound spiritual questions and observations. Like some of Erdrich’s (LaRose, 2016, etc.) earlier work, it shifts adroitly in time and has a thoughtful, almost mournful insight into life on a Native reservation. If Erdrich hasn’t previously ventured into tropes normally employed by sci-fi writers, she doesn’t show the inexperience here.

There is much to rue in this novel about our world but also hope for salvation: “I think we have survived because we love beauty and because we find each other beautiful,” as the novel's protagonist puts it. “I think it may be our strongest quality.”

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-269405

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

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THE TESTAMENTS

Atwood goes back to Gilead.

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), consistently regarded as a masterpiece of 20th-century literature, has gained new attention in recent years with the success of the Hulu series as well as fresh appreciation from readers who feel like this story has new relevance in America’s current political climate. Atwood herself has spoken about how news headlines have made her dystopian fiction seem eerily plausible, and it’s not difficult to imagine her wanting to revisit Gilead as the TV show has sped past where her narrative ended. Like the novel that preceded it, this sequel is presented as found documents—first-person accounts of life inside a misogynistic theocracy from three informants. There is Agnes Jemima, a girl who rejects the marriage her family arranges for her but still has faith in God and Gilead. There’s Daisy, who learns on her 16th birthday that her whole life has been a lie. And there's Aunt Lydia, the woman responsible for turning women into Handmaids. This approach gives readers insight into different aspects of life inside and outside Gilead, but it also leads to a book that sometimes feels overstuffed. The Handmaid’s Tale combined exquisite lyricism with a powerful sense of urgency, as if a thoughtful, perceptive woman was racing against time to give witness to her experience. That narrator hinted at more than she said; Atwood seemed to trust readers to fill in the gaps. This dynamic created an atmosphere of intimacy. However curious we might be about Gilead and the resistance operating outside that country, what we learn here is that what Atwood left unsaid in the first novel generated more horror and outrage than explicit detail can. And the more we get to know Agnes, Daisy, and Aunt Lydia, the less convincing they become. It’s hard, of course, to compete with a beloved classic, so maybe the best way to read this new book is to forget about The Handmaid’s Tale and enjoy it as an artful feminist thriller.

Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54378-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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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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