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Monday, September 5, 2022

Book review: The Genesis of Misery by Neon Yang (reviewed by Shazzie)


Official Author Website

Order The Genesis of Misery over HERE 

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Neon Yang (they/them) is a queer non-binary author based in the UK. They have been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Lambda Literary, Ignyte, and Locus Awards, and their Tensorate series of novells (The Red Threads of FortuneThe Black Tides of HeavenThe Descent of Monsters and The Ascent to Godhood) was an Otherwise Award Honoree. In previous incarnations, Neon was a molecular biologist, a science communicator, a writer for animation, games and comic studios, and a journalist for one of Singapore's major papers.

OVERVIEWThis is the story of Misery Nomaki, a common citizen from a mining duchy, and about how things turned out like they came to be. This is another science fiction book I read obsessively, and I think that alone says a lot about it. I am here to say that this book deserves your attention.

Before I elaborate on the premise and structure of this book, I wish to clarify that though this book contains a narrative structure that ha been done many times before this, it requires so much more attention than you'd think. It is just one that needs to be read at the right time, and if it is, I think the payoff would be worthwhile.

Simply put, this is a story inspired by that of Joan of Arc, but set in space. Misery is a nobody from a fringe duchy who has certain magical abilities that can be attributes of the saints, or of the voidmad, both of which are treated every differently in this world. For about the first half of the book, we are mostly following Misery's journey, though the author makes it clear that a lot is yet to happen. There is a large world that needs to be explored by the story, and by Misery, and her circumstances and choices dictate much of what the reader is shown. Her backstory, and along with it, quite a bit about the world and the reasons for her temperament are explored. Misery has hallucinations, or sees a spirit she calls Ruin - an incessant voice in her head that tries to guide her toward her destiny.

The book is set far in the future, about ten thousand years after humanity fled the earth to try to survive in space. It is driven by a narrator telling another character the story of Misery, as observed in an omniscient manner, in the form of contiguous chapters that speak of her story, along with interludes every now and then. In my opinion, the interludes provided a refreshing break that helped me digest what had occurred between them, and added a factor of suspense that kept me diving in to read more, despite me being the distracted person that I am.

The plot is complex, and I am sure has so much more to it than I registered during my read, and I am sure I will benefit from a re-read of this book before the next one is out. The way I see it, the story operates on two levels, the personal, and the grand. The personal bits are mostly what we see in the first half, and there are some chapters that deal with the stories and talk of motivations of another character, Lady Alodia Lightning, who is first introduced as the difficult princess. On the grand scale, it is a story of the fight of the religious against the Heretics, and all the political machinations that go along with it. There are plenty of religious elements that heavily influence the story and the world this tale is set in, the religion being very Christian-inspired.

The part that didn't work for me was that Misery's behaviour was a little too straightforward and about what I could expect from a character with a lot of religious righteousness, and one that had strong convictions. I kept expecting a few twists and turns, and hoped that her change in thinking and behaviour would be shown to happen with more compelling reasons.

There are plenty of diverse characters and more than sufficient queer representation exists in this book. Most characters are, by default, associated with their specific pronouns, and there are a couple of conversations in it that talk of gender and identity, which seemed like a wonderful touch to the story.

CONCLUSION: While I am sure that this book necessitates a re-read on my part, I can still confidently say that if you don't pick it up, you might miss out on a book that will work very well for some specific readers. I look forward to greater exploration of the setting in book two, and consider this a very unique and engaging exercise in the fantasy-esque treatment of a space opera.

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