The Black Tides of Heaven by J.Y. Yang

Title:  The Black Tides of Heaven
Series: Tensorate, #1
Author: J.Y. Yang
Publication date: 2017

Date started: 27/10/2019
Date finished: 10/11/2019

First sentence: “Head Abbot Sung of the Grand Monastery did not know it yet, but this night would change the course of all his days.”
Last sentence: “As long as there was love, there would be hope. It was enough.”
Favorite sentence: “The world needed both. Revolutions needed both. Someone had to wield the knives, but someone also had to write the treaties.”

Summary (spoilers): The Protector promised one of her children will be given to the Grand Monastery, as repayment for their help fighting back a Gauri insurrection. When Head Abbot Sung is summoned to the palace he believes that it’s finally time for the Protector’s younger child to join him in the Monastery, but is surprised when he realizes that the Protector just gave birth to two young twins, Akeha and Mokoya, and that he gets to take care of both of them. The Monastery cannot take care of infants, so their sister raises them until they are 6, at which point they go to the Monastery. They learn how to use the Slack there, but soon they realize that Mokoya has a gift, seeing prophecies which will always come true. The palace wants Mokoya back, and Akeha doesn’t want to stay behind without their twin, so they both leave the Monastery. Mokoya has a vision of someone from the Gauri minority replacing Abbot Sung as Head of the Grand Monastery, and as unlikely as it seems, it happens. The man is named Thennjay, and both twins fall in love with him, but he starts a relationship with Mokoya. One day, Mokoya says that they want to be confirmed as a woman, and Akeha has a breakdown because they thought they would never need to get confirmed and they experience intense dysphoria when thinking of becoming a woman or a man. They end up deciding on becoming a man because they think they don’t have a choice and it sounds like the least painful option, but they leave the castle just after their surgery. Thennjay tries to stop them and kisses them, but they still decide to leave. They become a messenger, and one night save a young rebel from the government: Yongcheow, who becomes their lover. Thanks to Yongcheow, Akeha becomes involved in the rebellion against their own mother. The purpose of the rebellion is to allow the use of science and mechanic in everyday life, so that people aren’t helpless and reliant on Tensors, government soldiers who know how to use the Slack. Akeha is given an atomic bomb, that someone from the government was working on before she fled with it after realizing how bad it would be. Akeha cannot have contact with their sister, but learns that she had a child with Thennjay, and that she wants them to visit her. Akeha always finds excuses to not go to their sister, but one day an accident in a weapon laboratory gravely hurts their sister and kills her child… Akeha decides to go back to the capital to try and heal her, and she survives.

Opinion: I have mixed feelings about this book: I loved the story, but not the way it was told! The universe, characters and plot line were fascinating and I was happy to learn about them, and the queer themes were great. But the lore was being delivered so slowly that even by the end of the book I wasn’t sure what some often used terms meant, which was really frustrating to me. Also, the writing was very clipped, skipping decades at a time and being always very brief, which didn’t allow much place for character definition and development. Still more good than bad! I loved this story of rebellion and complicated families, and the genderqueer element to it was really great (all children and teenagers are considered genderless and use they/them pronouns until they decide on a gender). I loved that even though it seems very liberating at first, everybody needs to choose to become either a man or a woman, and that non binary people feelings are explored through their unwillingness to choose. I hope this will develop more in the next books! The universe made of magic clashing with technology in a silk punk environment was very original and interesting!

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