N. K. Jemisin

Writer’s Ink: N. K. Jemisin

N. K. Jemisin recently posted a pic of her brand new tattoo on Facebook. Naturally, I immediately asked if she’d be willing to talk about it for Writer’s Ink 🙂

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Jemisin … where exactly have you been? I’ve reviewed her books here and here. She’s a good writer, both in her fantasy novels and with her blog. Her next work is a novella called “The Awakened Kingdom,” coming out in December.

Here’s Jemisin talking about the inspiration behind her tattoo:

I’ve never really wanted a tattoo just to have a tattoo, even though I’ve liked and admired them on other people all my life. I’m a big believer in acknowledging life-milestones, however, whatever those might be — and on the day I sold my first novel (in 2007) and thus began my career as a professional writer, I decided that I wanted this tattoo. For those who’ve ready my Dreamblood duology, the inspiration for the tattoo is probably obvious. In the novel, Gatherers are symbols rather than people, and thus they’re known more by the unique tattoos they wear on their shoulders than by their faces. Nijiri, a young apprentice Gatherer, is “the blue lotus”. I chose his tattoo rather than that of Nijiri’s master Ehiru — “the black rose” — because even though I’ve achieved a lifelong dream, getting published was only the beginning of the next stage of my life; I have a lot to learn, still. It’s possible that at some point in the future, when I feel like I’ve achieved some major goal as a writer, I might add Ehiru’s tattoo to the other shoulder. For now, I haven’t earned that yet.

This was to be my first tattoo, and I’m picky, so I chose to wait several years to find the perfect design rather than go ahead and get something I might be less than happy with. After awhile I started to despair of ever finding a design I might like — and then, out of the blue, in preparation for Arisia (where we’ll both be Guests of Honor), I saw a blue lotus that artist Lee Moyer had created based on my descriptions of Nijiri’s tattoo. That was it! And hey, I had a birthday coming up on September 19th, which meant it was time to treat myself to a very special present. So with Lee’s gracious permission, I took the design to Willie, the tattoo artist I’d researched, and he modified it slightly to suit my skin tone, etc. (He’s awesome, BTW.) It took 3.5 hours in the chair, and it’s only now stopped peeling, etc. I’m super-happy with it. Been wearing sleeveless stuff more than usual, lately, to show it off all the damn time.


PC Monsters of Genre: Collect Them All!

A week or two back, someone started a Twitter account called SFWA Fascists, dedicated to attacking the “screeching feminist witches” who are destroying the natural order — not to mention RUINING science fiction and fantasy — in the name of their twisted PC ideology.

The account itself is mostly spittle and flailing, but the creators also posted a list of the PC Monsters of SFWA (which they then renamed PC C**ts of SFWA, because I guess Monsters was too classy). These are the people deemed to be “immoral, vicious, manipulative snakes.”

DL Thurston has a copy of the list here.

Interestingly enough, people on the SFWA Fascist Enemies List reported suddenly gaining new followers, some as many as 50 to 100 in a few days.

Watching people use this list as a suggestion for “Who to follow on Twitter” made me happy. And because I was putting off working on the book one afternoon, I decided it would be fun to create PC Monster of Genre cards to go with it. (Note: All of these were made with the permission and blessing of the subjects.)

I started with myself, to celebrate my inclusion on the list. As of today, I’ve done cards for 7 of the 16 list members.


The Kingdom of Gods, by N. K. Jemisin

The Kingdom of Gods [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] is the third and final book in N. K. Jemisin‘s Inheritance Trilogy.

I read and very much enjoyed the first two books, and reviewed The Broken Kingdoms here. Jemisin has chosen to focus on different characters in each book, though there are narrative threads and characters connecting all three. In the final book, we see the social consequences of the changes from the first two, as the ruling Arameri family begins to lose their absolute power over the world, a world that has some complaints over how they’ve been treated.

This one is narrated by the godling Sieh, who was one of my favorites from the earlier books. He’s an unapologetic child, complete with playfulness, petulance, pranks, and more. In this book, he stumbles upon a pair of Arameri children, plays with them, debates killing them, and instead grants them friendship … and that’s where everything goes wrong.

Sieh begins to turn mortal. He ages. The further he gets from childhood, the more of his power he loses. He’s forced to survive as a mortal, eventually finding a role as a messenger/spy in the developing conflict with the Arameri, a conflict which reveals a new kind of magic and new players from Sieh’s own past … which I can’t really get into without spoiling things.

It’s hard wrapping up a series, and Jemisin aimed high with this one, pulling together mythological plotlines and changes that affect the entire world she’s built up. While I felt like there were rough patches in terms of plot and pacing, I prefer a book that aims high and occasionally stumbles to one that aims for mediocre and succeeds.

I think my biggest problem was lack of information. We don’t find out what’s really happening with Sieh until pretty much the last page. There were other aspects where it felt like the mystery stretched on too long as well, and it’s harder to stay invested when I don’t understand what’s going on.

That said, I still enjoyed the book. I really like the eventual ending with Sieh, and I love that Jemisin allowed her world and her characters to change so much. I like Sieh’s character, his so-human mischievous side as well as the divine side that’s both curse and blessing. I very much appreciate Jemisin’s matter-of-fact approach to Sieh’s sexuality as well, and the relationship he develops throughout the book. And I like that she doesn’t shy away from the darker side of war and politics, both on a global scale and a personal one.

Finally, the glossary in the back is AWESOME!!!, thanks to some creative annotations by Sieh.

I recommend everyone should at least read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon], the first book in the trilogy. If you enjoyed that, you should definitely read the rest. Even if the final book isn’t perfect (and what book is?), it’s an impressive work of writing, and an ambitious end to an ambitious trilogy.

For those of you who’ve read it, what did you think?

Books on my TBR List

I am, as usual, shamefully behind on my reading. Trying to read and review all of the Hugo-nominated work has only exacerbated the problem. The following are some of the books waiting impatiently on the shelves for me to get to…

Wild Things [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], by Charles Coleman Finlay. Charlie is an amazing writer, and broke in years ago by essentially turning the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction into the Magazine of Charlie Finlay and Maybe a Few Other People. He was kind enough to send me his collection as a Christmas gift. I’ve read and enjoyed several of the stories so far, but haven’t yet finished the book, on account of I suck. Or maybe I just get cranky because he writes better short fiction than me. Jerk.

A Natural History of Dragons [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], by Marie Brennan. Come on. Look at that cover and tell me you don’t want to check this book out. It won’t be on sale until February of next year, but I have a copy of the bound manuscript right here, because my life is just that awesome! I’ve read and reviewed Brennan’s work before, and I love the historical detail she captures in her books. This one is described as “the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.”

The Kingdom of Gods [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], by N. K. Jemisin. The final book of Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy. I talked about the first two books here, and now I have an autographed copy of number three whispering in my era, telling me to set aside those silly Hugo stories and come play. I’ve skimmed the first chapter, which is told from the point of view of the child-god Sieh. Sieh was one of my favorite gods from the first book and makes me want to read it that much more right now!

Pirates of Mars [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], by Chris Gerrib. I’m told that Gerrib named a ship after me. I have not been told whether it’s a Millennium Falcon type ship that runs circle around the imperials, or more of a “Did a piece just break off of my gorram ship?” kind of deal. Gerrib blogs a fair amount about piracy in the real world, and I’m curious to see how he’s applied that knowledge and research to Mars in what I believe is his first published novel.

Unless he blows up my ship, of course. Then all bets are off, and I’ll write him into one of my stories so the goblins can eat him.

Queen’s Hunt [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], by Beth Bernobich. This one comes out in mid-July, and is the sequel to Bernobich’s book Passion Play, which I talked about with Sherwood Smith over at Book View Cafe, discussing her portrayal of rape and its effects, her characterization, the Cool Stuff theory of fiction, and more. I also reviewed and enjoyed Bernobich’s YA book Fox & Pheonix here. I’m looking forward to seeing where she went with the story in book two.

2012: Midnight at Spanish Gardens [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], by Alma Alexander. I reviewed Alexander’s bestselling novel The Secrets of Jin-Shei back in 2007, describing it as a magical, masterful novel. (For some reason, I couldn’t find the review on my blog, but that link will take you to my Amazon review.) Her latest book is set “on the eve of the end of the world … in Spanish Gardens,” where five friends come to reminisce, to reveal secrets, and to make a choice presented by a bartender named Ariel, “the choice to live a different life, or return to this one…” I’m very curious to see what Alexander has done with this premise.

Net Impact [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], by Donald J. Bingle. I met Don years ago, and have shared a ToC with him in a number of anthologies. He warned me that there are no goblins in this one, but I said I’d be willing to read it anyway. This is not SF/F, but a spy novel about Dick Thornby, described as knowing “a few tricks to help him get out of a tight spot, even if his boss accuses him of over-reliance on an abundance of explosives.” Which sounds vaguely goblinesque to me…


Those are just some of the books looming over me from the bedside table, threatening to tumble and crush me in my sleep. Thankfully, I’ve got a vacation coming up very soon! If you need me, I’ll be on the deck up north, watching the lake and trying to catch up on my reading.

Your turn. What’s sitting in your To-Be-Read pile that you’re looking forward to? What releases have you impatiently counting down the days?

The Broken Kingdoms and The Sagan Diary

Subterranean Press was kind enough to hand out copies of John Scalzi‘s novelette The Sagan Diary [Amazon | B&N | Subterranean Press] at ConFusion this year. As the title suggests, the book is a collection of mental diary-style entries from Jane Sagan of Scalzi’s Old Man’s War universe.

The book begins with a preface from Lieutenant Gretchen Schafer, an analyst involved in reviewing and transcribing BrainPal memories from Special Forces soldiers like Sagan. Written as a letter of protest, Schafer complains that “what we have to work with are data-poor bits in which Lt. Sagan thinks about what appears to be a romantic partner of some sort…” She describes the files as “of some anthropological interest … but for our purposes these files are near useless.”

I read this as a nicely-done warning to the reader: this is not Old Man’s War. This is not action-heavy space battles and supersoldiers. It’s the musings and philosophizing and reflections of a soldier. A rather loving character study. It’s almost poetic at times:

I am not Death. I am killing; I am the verb. I am the action, I am the performance. I am the movement that cuts the spine; I am the mass which pulps the brain. I am the headsnap ejecting consciousness into the air.

I am not Death but she follows close behind…

It’s a fairly quick read, and an interesting change from the other things I’ve read by Scalzi. I definitely recommend reading his Old Man’s War books for context.


I also just finished reading N. K. Jemisin‘s The Broken Kingdoms [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], book two of the Inheritance Trilogy.

I liked Jemisin’s first book a lot, but it’s been almost two years since I read it, and unfortunately my memory of the details from that first book were a little fuzzy, because my brain leaks. The Broken Kingdoms works as a standalone, but I think I would have gotten even more out of it if I had the first story clear and fresh in my brain.

This is set ten years after The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. From the back cover:

In the city of Shadow, beneath the World Tree, alleyways shimmer with magic and godlings live hidden among mortalkind. Oree Shoth, a blind artist, takes in a strange homeless man on an impulse. This act of kindness engulfs Oree in a nightmarish conspiracy. Someone, somehow, is murdering godlings … and Oree’s guest is at the heart of it.

Oree is a fascinating character. While blind to the mundane world, she can see magic, and can perform magic of her own through her paintings and drawings. She is not a typical fantasy warrior or kick-ass heroine. Like all of Jemisin’s characters, she feels very real, with her own struggles and desires, her own history and scars.

Heartfelt. That’s the word I’ve been struggling with as I work on this review. Jemisin’s writing feels heartfelt. She understands and loves this world, these characters, and it shows.

Shiny, the homeless man who refuses to speak, was particularly interesting. He appears mortal most of the time, but is unable to die (permanently, at least – think of a glowing Jack Harkness), and manifests powerful magic when protecting Oree. He’s arrogant and rude, but even before you learn his backstory, you can tell he’s also lost in the world.

Lil is another great character, a godling who is both disturbing and fun. (I just realized why I like her. At one point she unselfconsiously devours the bodies of the dead, because that’s just what she is. She’s like a superpowerful version of my goblins with scary-big teeth.)

Storywise, it was fascinating to see some of the fallout from the events of the first book, and to learn more about the history of the gods and the godlings. There’s a fair amount of action as Oree struggles against enemies with the power to kill godlings … perhaps even to kill the gods themselves. It gets pretty dark and intense for a while toward the end, but the ending works. A story of mortals warring against themselves and the gods isn’t the newest idea in fantasy, but ideas are easy. It’s the execution – the thoughtfulness, the characterization, the history – that make this book work.

I’m having a hard time talking about the book in more detail without spoiling things. So I’ll just say this is the second of Jemisin’s books I’ve read, and I’m looking forward to picking up her third.

Open Books Post

All right, time for a break from the intense blog posts. Let’s talk books! Last night I finished The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] by N. K. Jemisin.

Wow. I’d heard a lot of buzz about this one, which always makes me nervous, because big book buzz doesn’t always translate to a book I’ll enjoy. But I have to say, this is the best book I’ve read so far this year, and as soon as I can remember how, I’ll be recommending it for the Nebula.

Was it a perfect book? No book is. But I loved the narrative style, I loved the worldbuilding, I loved the gods and most of the characters. It was a very well-written fantasy that sucked me in and kept me up late for the past two nights to finish it.

Jemisin has the first three chapters posted on her web site. Go forth and read.


One of the nice perks of being an author is that you get the occasional ARC or review copy. This has been a good month. Sitting on my To Be Read pile are review copies of:

I love being a writer 🙂 I’ve also got a copy of Nnedi Okorafor‘s Zahrah the Windseeker [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon], which I picked up at her signing in Lansing last week.

What about you? What have you read and enjoyed lately, and what are you looking forward to picking up next?

Jim C. Hines