I love to read and can get very attached to my opinions, but recently I've been learning not to completely lose my head when people disagree with me, so feel safe to argue with me whenever you wish ;)
I think I read this book the wrong way.
I started out reading the synopsis and still having a very hazy idea of what it was about, which is not my usual style. I like to have some solid conception of the ideas, themes, and characters before diving in so I know ahead of time what to appreciate. For this, I just heard it was good. And that it was placed in an alternate ancient Egypt.
If appropriating "bygone cultures" is a habit of Jemisin's, I may very well continue to read her other works. Capturing the feel of a land that might have existed thousands of years ago, in a desert setting so unlike the world I live in, with the yearly flood of the equivalent of the Nile River, is something Jemisin does so well it takes my breath away. It's for this reason I also plan to continue reading Guy Gavriel Kay, and the thought of having found two authors willing to make historical imagination into fantastical reality is quite a delicious discovery.
What made this fail to click with me, or perhaps vice versa, was that I wasn't prepared for just how earnestly Jemisin would take a story of personal religious questioning. I don't really, as an individual, understand what is required to sustain sincere faith. (If you're wondering, I am an atheist.) Maybe deep down I actually have managed to believe that institutionalized religion is stupid, backwards, and worthy of the utmost scorn. To take anything in complete faith demands too much vulnerability from me. But at the same time, I don't want to acknowledge that the rejection is partially irrational. At the end of the day, despite all its intellectual trappings, cynicism is a defense mechanism. We question things so we know where to throw up our walls.
So when Ehiru and Nijiri first walked onstage with their oh-so-all-encompassing dedication to Hananja (I think? Jemisin's mythology is so complex that a lot of it actually flew over my head), I laughed.
I thought to myself, wait for it. The sarcasm. The irony. The criticism. The satire. Come on, it's coming.
Ok, maybe not.
(Just to be clear, I didn't expect Jemisin to demonize religion so much as subtly undercut it. A simplistic portrayal of anything is boring.)
If anything, as the story goes on, Jemisin makes fun of the very thing I was expecting. The villain, to me, portrays the consequences of the loss of trust; what happens when you characterize the entire world you live in as evil, rotten, and corrupt, with nothing else sincere to hold onto. I might call it oversimplified, but I dunno how much it's my own bias as a personally rather cynical person figuring in there.
I guess every once in a while, a book comes along that challenges the very fundamental base of your worldview. This was one of them, and it does so in such a thoughtful, engaging manner that I have no choice but to respect it.
I'm still not sure exactly what I think of Ehiru's storyline, just by virtue of coming from way over on the other side of the spectrum, but this review does that excellently.