Tag Archives: Tor.com novellas

Book Review: Lustlocked by Matt Wallace

I received a free advance copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley.

Lustlocked is the second in Matt Wallace’s Sin du Jour series, which began with the riotously funny Envy of Angels late last year. When I read the earlier volume, it was as part of my ongoing project of reading all of Tor.com’s new novellas, but I didn’t expect to like it much. Instead I found it quite enjoyable—smart and fast and a thoroughly fun read. I couldn’t wait for Lustlocked, and I was not disappointed.

It picks up more or less right where Envy of Angels ended, with Lena and Darren still kind of reeling from their experiences during their first days on the job at Sin du Jour and now faced with the decision of whether or not to sign on to the company on a more permanent basis. Of course they do, or there’d be very little story left to tell, and they (and we) quickly learn that there’s never a boring day at this catering outfit. The first job after Lena and Darren sign their contracts is a huge formal wedding for goblin royalty, which quickly gets out of hand when the bride complains that her in-laws aren’t always as nice to her as they could be and resident witch Boosha decides to do something about it.

Where Envy felt a little disjointed and too busy, with the fish-out-of-water story of Lena and Darren seeming almost incidental to the various other, more interesting storylines happening around it, Lustlocked finds a much better balance. There’s still an awful lot going on, including a sort of prologue that still seems somewhat out of place and disconnected from the main plot, which concerns a goblin wedding, but Lustlocked never feels overstuffed the way its predecessor sometimes did. Aside from the prologue, things flow along at a respectable and pleasantly methodical pace.

Where this second installment of the (hopefully open-ended and long-running) series really shines, though, is in continuing to bring to life its world and characters. Every new revelation about the mythology Matt Wallace is creating for this series is a new delight, and between Lustlocked itself and the bonus short story at the end (which was an excellent surprise) there was a ton of character background and development. I loved the sequence where Lena and Darren are being given a tour of the building, where I was glad to meet a couple of new characters. Wallace’s descriptions of food are delectably creative and full of vivid sensory descriptions, while his knowledge of the restaurant/catering/food business is definitely up to the task of making Sin du Jour feel like a real and lived-in place.

My only real criticism of the series so far is that I’m not quite sure what exactly Darren is there for. He didn’t make much of an impression on me in Envy, and he wasn’t much more present in Lustlocked. While Lena is really coming into her own as a character, Darren just kind of… exists. In a series as jam-packed with characters as this one, especially when being told in novella-length pieces, I kind of feel like every character really needs to exist for a specific reason. Lena is his roommate, and even she doesn’t seem to like or think about Darren very much at all, so he sadly ends up feeling superfluous.

In a bittersweet-in-hindsight turn of events, I read Lustlocked the day that David Bowie died, which feels a little like destiny, as it’s heavily implied in the book that David Bowie is/was an actual goblin king. I think this book might always be a little special to me because of that, as it’s a lovely tribute to the man, and one that I especially like because it is such pure, unadulterated fun. Of course David Bowie could be actual goblin royalty—IRL headcanon accepted.

Book Review: Patchwerk by David Tallerman

I received a free advance copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley.

I had no idea what to expect when I opened Patchwerk, aside from what the cover blurb says about it, so it was a complete and mostly pleasant surprise. I’d never heard of David Tallerman before, and this is the only thing I’ve ever read by him. Patchwerk is a type of sci-fi story that I don’t usually seek out—the “man invents something ill-advised and hijinks ensue” sort—so it was an interesting change of pace, although it was a great follow-up to Microsoft’s Future Visions anthology of “harder” sci-fi, which I just recently finished.

In some ways, Patchwerk is an interestingly experimental work, told in a series of alternate universe vignettes, each beginning where the previous one left off so that the reader learns what is going on at about the same rate as the characters do. At the same time, I figured it out before I think I was supposed to when I read it, so that the revelation when it came felt a little redundant and slightly condescending. It felt as if Tallerman thought he was being a good deal cleverer than he actually was when he came up with the concept for the book. Still, it wasn’t a particularly egregious example of this flaw, and the concept works well in other ways even if it fails somewhat as a tool for creating suspense.

What Patchwerk lacks in suspense—the stakes are said to be high (or at least implied to be), but things never do feel all that dire, and the ending was a little too pat—it makes up for in sheer action packed-ness. At no point was I ever bored reading this little book, and I finished it almost entirely in one sitting, on the edge of my seat the whole time. Though I complain that I figured some things out before the book confirmed them, I was so delighted with what was going on that it didn’t bother me at all while reading.

Perhaps my only significant complaint about this novella is a technical one. While I’d have to reread it to find specific examples, it seemed as if Tallerman shifted pretty freely between a close third person point of view focused on Dran and an omniscient narrator with some insights to Karen that Dran wouldn’t have been privy to on his own, and this was sometimes distracting. It might have benefited from another close read during the editing process to clarify some random-seeming point of view shifts that were a little distracting.

This definitely isn’t my favorite of Tor.com’s novellas, but it’s another solid entry into the catalog, and I’m glad to have read it. While it didn’t tickle my fancy as much as Of Sorrow and Such or Binti or Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, it was a nice journey outside my usual sub-genre choices, and it gave me something to think about for the afternoon that I read it.

Best of 2015: Favorite Books

2015, just objectively, has been an amazing year to be a reader, and it’s highly unfortunate that breaking my foot in May sent me into a reading slump that prevented me from getting to enjoy as much of what was published this year as I hoped to. I came in right at ten books behind on my goal of reading two books a week, and I can think of probably twenty books off the top of my head that I would love to have gotten around to this year.

Still, I made it through over ninety books in 2015, most of them new releases, though I did read a couple of classic sci-fi novels and check out a few things that were being adapted to film or television. While most of what I read was excellent (Yay, me, for making good choices!), there were a couple of disappointments (I’m looking at you, The Dinosaur Lords). It was a good year, and it was tough to pare this list down to a reasonable number of favorites. Obviously, “reasonable” is a subjective term.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

N.K. Jemisin quickly became one of my favorite authors when I discovered her a couple of years ago, so The Fifth Season was one of my most anticipated 2015 releases. Jemisin didn’t disappoint, delivering a new fantasy epic that is both enormous in scope and deeply personal. If only for Jemisin’s mastery of her craft, this is one of the most important novels of the year. There’s very little to say about it without spoiling the whole thing for those who haven’t read it, but I will tell you that it’s the most devastating thing I read in all of 2015. The Fifth Season just destroyed me. In a good way.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

This delightfully original space opera is the only book I read twice this year. It’s a sort of space road trip story told in vignettes that take place over the space of some months on a ship that is traveling to a remote part of the galaxy to drill a wormhole that would connect an unstable but resource-rich planet to a kind of galactic federation. It’s a book about family that exemplifies the old adage that home is where the heart is, but it’s also a book about gender and sex and war and politics and what it means to have humanity. It’s funny, smart, and poignant in turns, and while it’s a book that wears its progressive ideals very much on its sleeve, it never turns sanctimonious.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

I had read and enjoyed the first couple of Naomi Novik’s Temeraire novels some years ago, but hadn’t really followed her work very closely until I saw Uprooted getting an enormous amount of buzz in the early months of 2015. Having pleasant memories of Novik’s earlier books, I thought I’d give Uprooted a try, and I quickly fell in love. Agnieszka is a wonderfully funny and clever heroine, and she’s got a friend, Kasia, who figures largely in the story as well, which is important as it prevents the novel from being a straightforward kind of “Beauty and the Beast” romance. Instead, Uprooted is primarily about a young woman learning her own power, growing up, and finding her place in the world. If you like Robin McKinley, Patricia C. Wrede, Diana Wynne Jones, and Tamora Pierce, you will love Uprooted.

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente

Radiance had me at “decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery.” You know, if I wasn’t already definitely going to read it because, honestly, I would read the phonebook cover to cover if it had Catherynne Valente’s name on the byline. I will say that I think my opinion of the book suffered a little from my own exceedingly high expectations, but it’s a remarkably ambitious tome that is largely successful in its aims. It’s experimental and literary, but not inaccessibly so, and Valente’s lush prose is always a delight. Valente also published a couple of novellas in 2015—Speak Easy, which is a sort of retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” in the 1920s with Zelda Fitzgerald, and Six-Gun Snow White, which had been previously published before but is definitely worth rereading.

Updraft by Fran Wilde

Fran Wilde’s debut is probably my favorite debut of the year. It definitely feels almost more like a YA book than most of the other work I’ve been interested in recently, with its teenaged protagonist and coming-of-age themes. Where Updraft really shines, though, is in bringing to life one of the most unique and interesting fantasy worlds I’ve read about in ages. With a heroine, Kirit, who eschews all of the most common and irritating YA protagonist tropes, it’s an absolutely winning combination and one of the year’s most inventive and original books.

JoWaltonThessalyThe Just City and The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton

The Just City was one of the first books I read this year, and I was thrilled to learn that it had a sequel coming out just a few months later. These books, the first two in a planned trilogy, explore what might happen if the goddess Athena gathered thinkers, philosophers, and dreamers from every end of human history to try and build Plato’s Republic on an island in antiquity. Apollo becomes a human so he can learn about equal significance, and Socrates shows up to debate with everyone and instill revolutionary ideas in the community’s robots. If you love philosophy and think that a book whose climax is a lengthy debate between Socrates and Athena sounds good, you should read this series before the final volume arrives in mid-2016.

A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall

I didn’t read a ton of epic fantasy this year because I’ve been more focused on reading diversely and broadening my horizons to include more science fiction and more literary work, but I couldn’t help but pick up this one. It’s almost a pastiche, though I’d say it plays most of the regular epic fantasy and grimdark tropes just straight enough to not be altogether outside the genre. That said, A Crown for Cold Silver is definitely a genre-critical and self-aware novel that, at the same time, doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s every bit as violent and bloody and morally ambiguous as The First Law or A Song of Ice and Fire, but with a sense of humor that makes it a much more enjoyable read.

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

Ken Liu has coined the term “silkpunk” to describe what he’s creating in this first novel in a new trilogy, The Dandelion Dynasty, and I’m happy that I’ll be able to look back many years from now and know that I read this stuff before it was “cool.” The Grace of Kings is a captivating mix of Eastern and Western literary and historical influences that is worth reading if only because it’s so unique as a work of epic fantasy. While this first installment in the series is mostly focused on male characters, it’s not devoid of interesting and diverse women who are set to figure more prominently as the series continues. The book itself is a slow starter, but once you get into it you’re almost guaranteed to fall for its rather rakish charm.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

The Traitor Baru Cormorant has the distinction of being the most technically perfect novel I read in 2015. It’s just, objectively, absurdly good—well-conceived, perfectly paced, tightly plotted, just excellently written overall. It’s also incredibly dark and perhaps a little more pessimistic than I would have preferred in the end, but I think I could forgive this book almost anything because it gave us the character of Baru Cormorant. As I get older, I find that my favorite characters are, increasingly, women of the complex and ruthless variety, and Baru is definitely that. She’s not a woman who I’d ever want to be, but she’s exactly the sort of woman I love reading about.

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

This conclusion to Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy was everything I could have wanted it to be. It’s a wildly entertaining and fast-paced finale to one of the most compelling original space operas in recent years, and it manages to wrap up the series in a satisfying way while also leaving plenty of room for sequels—a somewhat likely possibility as the author has said she intends to write more in the Imperial Radch world in the future. While I loved to see how things work out for all my favorite characters from the first two books—Breq, Seivarden, and Tisarwat in particular—Ancillary Mercy introduces a couple of new characters that I found surprisingly endearing. All in all, a solid finish even if it doesn’t quite match the sheer inventiveness of Ancillary Justice.

CixinLiuThree-BodyThe Three-Body Problem and The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin

Though The Three-Body Problem was technically a 2014 release, I read it this year after it was nominated for a Hugo Award and then just had to read The Dark Forest when it came out a couple of months later. These might be the most unusual books I read this year as I seldom read translated fiction and had never read anything translated from Chinese before. I’m so glad I did, though. This pair of books were definitely not easy reads—they’re very cerebral, heavy on philosophy, and owe a great deal to a lot of classic “hard” sci-fi that I haven’t read (as well as to a lot of previous Chinese SF that I’m, of course, also not familiar with)—and the fact that the two books have different translators makes them feel subtly stylistically different, almost as if they had two different authors altogether. Even still, they’re some of my favorite reads of the year, if for no other reason than I appreciate the chance to read something written from a perspective and in a context so different from my own. If you do read these, I highly recommend buying them; with any luck, commercial success for this series will encourage the publication of more translated work in the U.S.

Queers DestroyQueers Destroy SF!

I’ve been following Lightspeed Magazine’s Destroy SF projects since their very first Kickstarter, and they really only get better over time. This year, Queers Destroy Fantasy! was by far the best issue of the bunch, but they are all worth checking out. I’ve discovered several new authors in the pages of these magazines; the reprints prove that diverse authors have always been around if you just keep an eye out for them; and the essays and author profiles are fascinating and often powerfully written. 2016 will bring us POC Destroy SF!, with the Kickstarter planned to start in mid-January. In the meantime, it’s not too late to buy the past issues of Women Destroy and Queers Destroy.

Tor.com NovellasTor.com Novellas, Various Authors

Tor.com has been publishing great fiction for years, but this was the first year that they published novellas, and this has been one of my favorite developments in the world of SFF this year. I’ve always loved novella-length work and felt like shorter novels don’t get enough attention, but that seems to be starting to change. The first round of Tor.com novellas was published this fall, and they were all at least good. My favorites were Kai Ashante Wilson’s Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, Daniel Polansky’s The Builders, and Angela Slatter’s Of Sorrow and Such. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, Sunset Mantle by Alter S. Reiss, and Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell were also strong titles.

Book Review: Genrenauts #1, The Shootout Solution by Michael R. Underwood

Genrenauts: The Shootout Solution is the first in a new series of novellas by Michael R. Underwood that explores and interrogates genre tropes with a premise that is basically like what would happen if the mid-90s television show Sliders got mashed together with the popular fiction section of a Barnes & Noble. It’s a fun idea, and it more or less works.

Leah Tang is a great protagonist who’s funny, smart and resourceful. It’s not often that an Asian-American woman gets to be front and center in a speculative genre, and this makes her a great choice to take the lead in a story that is very overt in its critical examination of genre standards. It’s nice to see Leah’s race and gender considered as positive job qualifications that, along with her background as a stand-up comedian, make her uniquely and especially qualified for the work the Genrenauts are doing.

Starting the series off with a look at the Western genre, which isn’t widely read these days by the under-60 crowd, is an especially smart move on the part of the author. I expect that this is the genre that younger readers will be least familiar with, which makes it a perfect introduction to the Genrenauts world and an ideal backdrop for establishing characters and easing the audience in to some of the deeper ideas that Underwood is concerned with.

As an exploration of genre as a concept and an in-depth look at some of the more widely used tropes of genre fiction, The Shootout Solution feels a little simplistic, though it hints at more sophisticated genre analysis to come. Hopefully, future books in this series will raise the stakes and broaden their scope, as this one never felt particularly dangerous, and the actual solution, when it’s discovered, was obvious and too-heavily telegraphed to surprise anyone with a higher than 101 level understanding of literary criticism.

The author himself has referred to this book as the “pilot episode” of this series, and it definitely reads like one. Much of what we get in The Shootout Solution is worldbuilding, character introductions, and set-up for the rest of the series, so this volume ends up a little light on plot. Like many a promising pilot, The Shootout Solution feels just incomplete enough on its own to make me want to come back for more of the series.

Book Review: Domnall and the Borrowed Child by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley

Domnall and the Borrowed Child is the definitely weakest of Tor.com’s novellas published to date. It’s not bad, but it’s a little too short and doesn’t have any standout qualities to elevate it above the ordinary.

The story has the kernel of an interesting idea, but it’s not very well-developed, and even just hours after finishing the book I find myself struggling to remember details of it. I like the concept of a faerie people in decline and struggling to survive on the margins of modern society, and this is alluded to throughout the story, but the story is too small and too personal to be really effective at communicating anything substantial about these hinted-at themes. I could see it being a nice fit for a larger collection of work exploring these ideas in greater depth, but it falls a little flat as a standalone tale.

None of the characters are particularly distinguished, and the elderly Domnall’s sexual interest in his young protégé is just plain creepy. Domnall had the potential to be an interesting character, but I just never felt like he truly came alive. The characters that I found truly fascinating were Micol and the human girl the fairies entranced, but neither of these characters gets a point of view in the novella and the human girl doesn’t even get a name. Sadly, what this means is that there are more interesting stories here than Domnall’s, and that knowledge colors the whole experience of reading Domnall and the Borrowed Child.

It’s bad enough reading a dull story; it’s far worse to read a dull story with potentially wonderful stories trapped inside it.

Book Review: The Builders by Daniel Polansky

The Builders is a wild ride from start to finish, and it’s my favorite so far of Tor.com’s new series of novellas. It’s a wonderful use of the form, and Daniel Polansky has managed to make a great many parts move like clockwork in a fast-paced, riveting revenge story with a deeply satisfying ending.

The best thing, on a technical level, about The Builders is Polansky’s clever use of its short length and the cinematic effect he produces by chopping the story up into short chapters, most only one or two pages long. There’s very little telling here, just showing, and each chapter is like a scene in a movie, painting a compelling picture that moves the story forward. It makes the book compulsively readable, and I could hardly bear to put it down.

There’s not much about The Builders that is particularly original or groundbreaking, but that is more than made up for by the sheer skill Polansky exhibits by arranging a collection of old tropes and a commonplace plot into a masterfully woven tapestry of a story. It goes to prove that, while there is very little new under the sun in the realm of storytelling, there’s definitely something to be said for doing something that’s been done before—but doing it very, very well.

Of course, this isn’t to say that everything about The Builders is expected. Indeed, I’ve never seen this kind of getting the old gang back together for one last revenge quest job story done in quite this way before. You know, with animals. It’s, perhaps surprisingly, pretty great.

Cute little forest animals have never been so grimdark, which also makes this the funniest thing I have read this year. ­­­I highly recommend it.

Book Review: Envy of Angels by Matt Wallace

Probably my favorite thing about this first round of Tor.com novellas has been the wide variety of different stories they have included, and this one is definitely the one that is most different from all the rest. I didn’t have any particular expectations for Envy of Angels, not having read anything else by Matt Wallace, and I increasingly find that I rather enjoy reading like this. It turns out that Envy of Angels is a smart and very funny urban fantasy.

I love any book that makes me laugh out loud, and Envy of Angels did so more than once. It is a seriously hilarious story involving a couple of down-on-their-luck chefs, a catering company whose only clients are demons, and an angel that tastes just like chicken nuggets. Basically, Darren and Lena are looking for work, they get hired on at Sin du Jour, and this story deals with basically their first day of work.

It’s been a good while since I’ve used the phrase “hijinks ensue” unironically, but it’s definitely appropriate here.

I can’t write too much about the plot without spoiling half the jokes, so I will just say that this is an excellent little story to read if you need a break from reading all of this year’s fantastic more-serious novels. I finished Envy of Angels in a single afternoon because I didn’t want to put it down, so I’d also suggest being sure to just go ahead and make sure you’ve got a couple of hours free when you sit down to it.

I won’t say that Envy of Angels is a masterpiece, because it’s not. Some of the characters are a little too one-dimensional, the tone of the story can be uneven at times, the prose is workmanlike at best, and I occasionally felt as if the author wasn’t quite as clever as he thinks he is. Still, this is a super fun read, and sometimes that’s enough.

I don’t see myself searching out Matt Wallace’s other work anytime soon, but I’m definitely looking forward to the next Sin du Jour novella. Goodness knows, by the end of January I’m sure I’ll be ready for another light, fast, humorous read to chase away the winter doldrums.

Book Review: Of Sorrow and Such by Angela Slatter

Of Sorrow and Such is a thoughtful piece of work whose contemplative tone would be restful if its subject matter wasn’t so infuriating. I love a good witch story. The thing is, stories about women being mistreated make me actually angry. This one does so in a great way.

I adore witches of all sorts, and I have had a special place in my heart for these sort of vaguely historical witch stories since the first time I read The Witch of Blackbird Pond over twenty years ago. Edda’s Meadow is much less historical and much vaguer as a setting, but it definitely scratches that same itch. Also like The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Of Sorrow and Such is a book that is fundamentally (even more so, really) concerned with the relationships between women and how we help each other survive (or not) in hostile, sometimes murderously, misogynistic societies.

I think what I love best about witch stories is the way that they work on multiple levels to examine ideas about how women exist in the world. To be a witch is both a metaphor and a depiction of a kind of reality, and not just a historical one. Angela Slatter’s practiced deployment of these ideas tells me that she knew exactly what kind of story she was writing, and she skillfully manipulates her characters and setting for maximum emotional effect.

Mistress Gideon is a great character. In many ways she’s exactly the sort of woman that can be a role model for readers, but Slatter never places that burden upon her protagonist. She’s therefore allowed to be much more than that, and Slatter gives us a main character who is kind and wise and motherly and loving and fiercely protective of her daughter and friends, but who is also not all-knowing, who can be cruel when she thinks she needs to be, and who is quite capable of murder.

The other women that surround Mistress Gideon are just as well-drawn. Her daughter, Gilly, is both lovable and infuriating. The other women we meet also have their own assortments of good and bad qualities. From the passionate young shapeshifter who desperately wants to be herself to her repressed spinster sister-in-law to the pastor’s wife who won’t leave her husband but also won’t submit to his literally poisoning her, these might not be women I want to be, but they are certainly lifelike enough that I can imagine meeting them.

This, really, is Angela Slatter’s gift. She brings these characters to life and I love them and want to read more about them. Though this is the only thing I’ve read by this author, it’s most assuredly only the first thing. I am very much looking forward to reading more of her work in the future.

Book Review: The Last Witness by K.J. Parker

The Last Witness is decidedly not my kind of book. If I wasn’t making a point of reading all of the Tor.com novellas in publication order, I would never have picked this one out based just upon its back cover copy. Needless to say, I’m glad that I’m working on this reading project, because I would be sad to have missed this little gem of a story.

The Last Witness deals with some rather heavy ideas about memory and storytelling—specifically the stories that we tell others and ourselves. It’s a fascinatingly speculative story with an intriguing perspective and a main character with a powerful magic that is the very definition of a double-edged sword. He can steal memories, but he remembers them all perfectly, himself. The story answers some of the questions that must be asked as a matter of course once you think up that kind of magic power.

As the story unfolds, we learn more and more about Parker’s wonderfully unreliable narrator, where he came from, and what having this power has made of him. There’s not a lot in this premise that is terribly surprising, but the story is well-constructed, and when the twist comes near the end it’s, well, not unexpected exactly, but so perfectly placed and executed that it provokes a deep emotional response as one is forced to change the way one thinks of the narrator and the story he’s told up to that point.

My biggest criticism of the book is that there are parts that are just plain confusing. Because of the mechanics of the narrator’s magical ability, he sometimes has a difficult time differentiating between his own natural memories and those that he’s gleaned through his work. While everything becomes clear by the end of the story, there were several times in the first third or so where I found myself struggling to make sense of it. This isn’t aided, either, by the fact that there are no chapters or other markers to clarify shifts between the narrator’s memories and other people’s memories that are being remembered by the narrator or between flashbacks and the present day events of the story. It’s not bad enough to make the story unreadable, but I could definitely see this being off-putting for people who (unlike myself) have no problem abandoning a book partway through.

I don’t expect that The Last Witness will be among my favorites of the Tor.com novellas, but I’m happy to have read it. It’s a solidly written story with an interesting protagonist, a clever twist, and a satisfying conclusion.

Book Review: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

binti-book-coverBinti is the first of the Tor.com novellas that has turned out to be slightly disappointing to me, but I think that’s because my expectations were so very high after reading Nnedi Okorafor’s previous work over the last few years. It was always going to be hard for this story to live up to the power and beauty of Lagoon or Who Fears Death or The Book of Phoenix.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t like Binti. Indeed, there’s a lot to love about this little book, although probably my first complaint about it would be that it is so very little. Of the Tor.com novellas I’ve read so far, Binti has by far the lowest page count, which is a shame if for no other reason than I never want any book by Nnedi Okorafor to end.

My second complaint, and a more substantive one, is that Binti relies a little too much on magic in order to move the story along. Okorafor has always created worlds with a synthesis of magic and science, but here the magic becomes too much of a deus ex machina. Considering the book’s hefty messages about colonization, racism, and the nature of humanity, this excessive mysticism may be intentional, but I found it a bit much at times.

Binti‘s greatest strengths, on the other hand, lie in Okorafor’s gift for crafting characters and cultures. Binti herself is a wonderful heroine, if perhaps a little unrealistic in her lack of any real flaws, and her Meduse counterpart Okwu is excellently conceived and nicely-written. The Meduse people in general are fascinating, although their grievance was resolved a little too neatly in the end.

The very best part of the book, though, is the way Okorafor weaves in Binti’s personal history and shows the complicated feelings Binti has about her people, her culture, and her sense of self. There’s something rather melancholy about the ways in which Binti’s journey changes her, but I quite like the idea that every journey–no matter how much we start on our own terms–is a journey into an unknown and uncontrollable future. What I like even more, however, is the idea that we can always save something and take it with us. I love the idea of something as culturally and regionally specific as the Himba people’s otjize lasting long enough in time and space for someone to wear it to college on another planet, and in Binti otjize becomes a perfect symbol of resistance, endurance, and connection to the past.

I just wish there was a little more plot happening. There’s just not much going on, and the novella ends up feeling both uneventful and overstuffed with meaning. Without a strong story to support all of the big ideas Okorafor is weaving together, Binti starts collapse under its own weight. It’s a shame, because Binti herself is a great character that I’d love to see more of.