Book Review – The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

the-100-thousand-kingdomsI first heard about The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms on the Writing Excuses podcast, when the crew was talking about magic systems. They mentioned that the magic system in the book didn’t have a lot of explicit rules (at least, not to the level that Brandon Sanderson does in his novels), but that it was okay because the story didn’t need it.

So, when it went on sale for 99 cents, I snapped it up. I’m glad I did, because this book was amazing, and I have been gushing about it to literally EVERYONE who has asked “So, read any good books lately?”

Yeine is the leader of Darre, a small, matriarchal kingdom in the north. After her mother’s death, she’s summoned to Sky, the capital of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, where she’s named as heir to the throne.

The problem is, two other heirs have already been named, which, as Yeine herself puts it, makes her “two heirs too many.” But the battle for the throne is not the only battle going on in this duplicitous city, and unbeknownst to her, Yeine is about to play a much larger part in both than she ever suspects.

Yeine is easily the best thing about the book. I loved her voice, I loved the way she told her story, I loved how completely and utterly out of her depth she was and how she still managed to fight her way through. Her talents are not, at first glance, well-suited to the deeply political situation in Sky, but by God, Yeine learns fast and makes the most of what she has. She screws up, but she doesn’t shy away from fixing her mistakes, and she’s willing to go to great lengths to protect the land and people that she loves so much.

Fantasy novels aren’t often told solely in first person (and if they are, it’s usually a mixture of first and third), but The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is entirely from Yeine’s point of view and it works wonderfully.

It’s woven with an art that shows you she’s jumping back and forth in time, interspersed with interesting asides and digressions, but it never gets dull and it’s never confusing. It’s so well-written that you just want to swim in it and roll around in the words.

I also loved the mythology of the world. We get a lot of stories about the gods’ history and the way the world came into being, how everything got to the way it is now. And it’s not just worldbuilding added for flavor; it’s all important, vital pieces of a puzzle that we need in order to understand what’s happening in the story.

There’s a very strong theme of love and family running through the novel: how you can love someone and hate them in equal measure, love someone and still betray them, how even families that have been broken can still be mended.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a rich, lovely fantasy novel that, on the one hand, I want to gush about for ages. On the other hand, half the fun of the book is the discovery, learning things as Yeine does, and I don’t want to rob anybody of that joy. If you’re looking for a new fantasy novel, pick this one up as soon as you can. It’s so, so worth the read.

Movie Review – Maleficent

hr_Maleficent_13I’m a sucker for a good fairy tale story, but given that Sleeping Beauty was never one of my favorite Disney movies, I was only passingly interested in Maleficent. That is, until the trailers came out. Then, my interest went from “passing” to “I CAN’T WAIT.”

Thankfully, Maleficent lived up to my hopes, and even surpassed them in some respects. I adored the way they twisted the original story, and overall it was a gorgeous movie, completely enjoyable, despite a few hiccups.

Given the title, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the entire movie is about Maleficent, starting with her childhood (insofar as fairies have childhoods) in the moors, and her friendship with a human boy named Stefan.

However, Stefan has big dreams: dreams that involve him becoming the king of the human kingdom that neighbors Maleficent’s moors. And as we see, he’s willing to do just about anything to achieve those dreams, even if it means betraying someone he’s claimed to love.

His betrayal may get him what he wants, but it also earns him the enmity of the most powerful fairy in the moors. And Maleficent is just as determined to get her revenge as Stefan was to earn the crown.

The christening scene, where Maleficent casts her curse on Aurora, was my favorite scene in the entire movie. It’s one of the most iconic Maleficent scenes from the animated Sleeping Beauty, and to say Angelina Jolie nails it is an understatement in the highest degree. She’s absolutely note-perfect in every aspect of it: her tone, her mannerisms, her facial expressions, the chilling desire for revenge. It’s amazing.

And with the additional backstory between Stefan and Maleficent from the first 30 minutes of the movie, it becomes clear just how much of that curse is designed to strike directly at him. It’s a fantastic scene, and I’m pretty sure that alone is worth the price of admission.

Angelina Jolie as Maleficent

Shush, don’t wake the baby…

After that, we’re in familiar territory: Stefan sends his infant daughter into the woods to be raised by three fairies, orders all spinning wheels destroyed, and then proceeds to spend the next sixteen years slowly spiraling into madness, driven by his own desire for revenge, to see Maleficent utterly destroyed.

Meanwhile, the three fairies raise Aurora, and we also reach one of the few things that didn’t work about the film for me. The fairies are funny, but they’re also horrifically incompetent, to the point that it’s almost stunning Aurora survives to adulthood. It’s one of the largest departures from the original, I think, and there are times when it hurts the movie more than it helps it.

The movie also glossed over why these fairies, as residents of the moors, would be attending Aurora’s christening. We got a perfunctory explanation, but I really didn’t know why they would so deliberately go against Maleficent—even if they had succeeded in making it a gesture of peace, there was no guarantee that she would follow the gesture.

But the core of the movie is Maleficent’s growth: the loss of her innocence, her cold vengeance, and then the slow build of her relationship with Aurora. While the three fairies are bickering, Maleficent, strangely, ends up being the one to ensure the baby doesn’t die. She watches from the shadows, keeping an eye on Aurora as she grows, and that new relationship is the most intriguing thing about this movie. Aurora is absolutely adorable, and you can see why Maleficent starts to have second thoughts about what she’s done.

I don’t want to talk too much more about it, because they do a good enough job of twisting the story that I’d rather not spoil it. Suffice it to say, if you’ve considered seeing Maleficent, or if you at all like fairy tales, I would really encourage you to go. It’s a great story and a wonderful retelling of the Sleeping Beauty tale.

June #WriteMotivation – Week 4

Header image and thumbnail photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Header image and thumbnail photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

I can’t believe there’s only one week left in June. It feels like this month has just flown by.

In other news, the July sign-ups for #WriteMotivation are live, and you can still get in on the July session of Camp NaNoWriMo.

1) Write at least two reviews.
I’ve written three, and all of them are either published or scheduled.

2) Revise 4 chapters of MGG and the synopsis.
I’ve made it a little further through this one, but sadly not much headway.

3) Start revisions on NaNo novel. (This will not be until at least halfway through the month, so I have time to take a break from it.)
I have started! The first thing I did was skim through the story and make a calendar, so I would have a good ballpark of when the story was actually taking place. Everything happens over the course of about seven weeks, and I had completely forgotten that 6 chapters near the end of the novel actually take place in a 24-hour period. Because of this, I’ve revised the timeline for some of the backstory, so hopefully that will help with some of the novel’s events.

I’ve also made notes on a few other things I need to research, and a couple of things that are less “research” and more “give me 20 minutes with a notebook and pencil so I can make some awful geographic doodles.” (I don’t know why, but I don’t ever draw maps until I’m done with the first draft.)

I’ve also rewritten most of the first scene, so yay!

4) Read three books.
No significant progress to speak of.

How’s your month going? Are you feeling good about the one week left, or are you, like me, wondering where the time went?

Movie Review – Belle

belle-posterWith all the talk I do about how much I love reading romance, it may come as a surprise that I don’t particularly care for romantic movies. Sure, I have a handful I like (Love Actually, anyone?), but it’s not really a genre that gets me to the theater.

However, of all romance, historical romance comes closest to being my crack, so when I first heard about Belle and then later saw positive reviews for it, I decided to actually catch it in the theater.

And I’m glad I did, because it was a lovely, lovely movie.

Belle is based loosely on the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), an illegitimate mulatto girl raised by her great-uncle, Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson), who also happened to be the Lord Chief Justice of England. The movie has two significant plot threads: Dido’s dealings with two suitors (one of whom is “suitable” for her rank and one who isn’t), and the Lord Chief Justice’s impending ruling on the case of the slave ship Zong (which was a landmark case in the ultimate abolition of slavery in England).

Dido has an unusual amount of freedom for the time period, both a black person and a woman. She’s the daughter of an aristocrat and grows up with the protection and most of the privilege that entails. And later, her father’s death leaves her an heiress, with enough money to live comfortably without ever seeking marriage, if she so desires.

However, despite her privileges, Dido’s skin color still keeps her on the outside, looking in. There’s a delicate balance of rules she has to follow, even within her own home and especially when guests are around. Being black is something she’s never allowed to forget, and so neither are we.

At the same time, Dido has a happy life. It’s clear that her aunt and uncle love her very deeply, even if they don’t always know the best way to show it. Plus, she and her cousin, Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon), are best friends, as close as sisters, and I absolutely loved their relationship.

The sparks between Dido and John Davinier (Sam Reid) are intense and immediate, and hot holy damn, did those two make some eyes at each other. Davinier is an extremely passionate character, intensely idealistic, and it’s talking to him that gets Dido interested in the Zong case. I wish we had gotten to hear more of their conversations as they’re getting to know each other, because what we do hear is so, so great.

Yeah, get your 18th-century flirt on!

Yeah, get your 18th-century flirt on!

One of my favorite parts of historical romance is the dialogue, and the dialogue in Belle is so, so great. Dido has the most beautifully eloquent “Fuck you, I do what I want” speech at the end of the movie. I very nearly stood up and cheered in the theater.

Often, movies with this kind of plot—a character with a foot in two worlds, but who isn’t quite able to belong to either—end tragically, but Belle avoids that trap. In fact, I wish the ending had been a little longer, to give us a true denouement to the film.

My one real complaint about the movie is the inclusion of a scene where Dido is physically attacked by a particularly despicable character. Said character is already despicable, even before this scene, and to me, it served to do little more than make him irredeemable and add in some unnecessary violence. I kind of wish it had been excised completely, and that we’d been given more time with Dido and Davinier instead.

But really, that’s a three-minute blemish on an otherwise wonderful movie. Honestly, with the social issues and the court case and the angst, it felt a lot as though someone had taken a Courtney Milan book and made a movie out of it. (Slightly different era, but still.) I enjoyed it just as much as I hoped I would, which is really all you can ask. If you like romantic movies, give this one a chance.

June #WriteMotivation – Week 2.5

Header image and thumbnail photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Header image and thumbnail photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Yes, my first actual update for June isn’t until halfway through the month.

I wish I could say it’s because I’ve been accomplishing the actual goals I set out for myself, but it also involved movies and family and travel and finally finishing the first season of Veronica Mars with Eris and finishing off two short stories I started writing months ago.

So. Um. As for actual goal updates?

1) Write at least two reviews.
I’ve got one that just needs a revision and two others that are half-written, so hopefully I’ll have a couple of these up soon.

2) Revise 4 chapters of MGG and the synopsis.
I’ve started the chapter revisions, and I’m close to halfway through the first two. It looks like revisions will combine those two chapters into one, though, so yay go me?

3) Start revisions on NaNo novel. (This will not be until at least halfway through the month, so I have time to take a break from it.)
Still haven’t started, probably won’t until a little later this week.

4) Read three books.
No significant progress to speak of.

And that’s it! How are you doing on your goals for June? Or are you taking it easy this month?