Review: The Black Tides of Heaven

The Black Tides of Heaven by Neon Yang

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I would probably more accurately rate this book as 4.5, but I decided to round up.

Yang does a perfect job in this novella creating just enough history for the world that we feel as though it’s gone on forever. It’s mostly focused on the two main characters, Mokoyo and Akeha, and yet there is so much happening in the background that we learn just enough about. I see it almost as a template for what the time between Sanderson’s Mistborn Era 2 and Era 3 might be like. In this story the world, which seems like a second-world Indonesia (lots of Chinese and Indian infuence), runs on magic-based devices. Only the government Tensors can create these devices and from there comes some of the government’s source of power – the monopoly on technology. In this novella (which spans 35 or so years) a faction grows that begins to invent science-based machines. All of this is fascinating, yet in so many ways it has nothing to do with plot propelling our story.

The plot revolves around a set of what might otherwise be called Princes or Princesses, although they don’t use that term in this book. They are incredibly tight as siblings and yet their mother, who gives Machiavelli a run for his money in terms of end justifying the means and so on, causes a huge rift between them. The main plot is about them dealing with this rift and whether they reconcile.

One fascinating detail about this world which IS important to the plot is that people do not choose their gender until they’re adults. At that point they get “magic-ed” into the gender they choose. Obviously a metaphor for the ideal universe for people who don’t feel like their gender matches the body they were born into. I’ve read similar subplots in other science fiction and fantasy books. I also think there are some human cultures who’ve done this in the past (not the magic part) before things got super rigid during the Victorian times. On a side note: before the main characters chose their genders I read them as female. I’m not sure what that says about me or the way the characters are written or both. Just an interesting observation.

This novella stands well enough on its own. Because I loved the story-telling and the characters, I’ve added the other Tensorate novellas and novels to my TBR pile, but I didn’t have a sense of urgency to continue in this world right now.

I highly recommend – it’s a pretty quick read (would probably take you a weekend or so if it’s what you did with your free time) and has a well-paced plot.

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