January 19, 2016 § Leave a comment
Graduate school has given me new lenses through which to enjoy the media that I consume. I know, better than ever, how to read books for pleasure and how to gauge their effect on my own patterns of writing and speech. A good diet of fiction and nonfiction, in several different genres and mediums, has made me a more thoughtful and articulate person, there’s no denying that
It has also ruined more than a few aspects of the media that I consume. I’m going to write about the negative rather than the positive here, because it’s more fun.
As of the composition of this blog post, I have read five pages of N.K. Jemisin’s 2010 debut novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. As of yet, I have no idea if it’s a good novel or not: it was nominated for a Nebula and a Hugo but lost both to Connie Willis’ Blackout/All Clear. It’s certainly well-written, with a lucid style that is still dense without coming off as self-involved. It also reminds me that my dissertation work, which primarily focuses on familial networks of power among the rural elites of twelfth- and thirteenth-century Italy, has totally destroyed my ability to appreciate fantasy novels, particularly when they hinge upon political maneuverings between aristocrats of a royal or consular court in neo-medieval style.
Even the best authors make assumptions. Writing a book on anything, let alone the actions of multiple persons in a world invented from whole cloth, takes an immense amount of effort and it’s not only preferable but necessary that shortcuts are taken where they present themselves. Jemisin has committed no great sin by partaking in the blend of tenth-century Byzantium, the fifteenth-century War of the Roses, sixteenth-century Machiavelli, the eighteenth-century court at Versailles, and the glamour of prewar Monaco in the twentieth century from which have been drawn the popular understanding of nobility in the English-speaking world from Sleeping Beauty to Game of Thrones, especially if she uses it at the basis for an interesting and compassionate narrative.