The Black Tides of Heaven is not only diverse, featuring a society where gender can be chosen, but also imaginative – taking us on a fabulous journey full of magic and political workings with fabulous characters.
For Mokoya and Akeha, their life is far from simple. They were sold to the Grand Monastery as an elaborate maneuver by their cunning mother, the Protector. Meanwhile, Moyoka developed a prophetic gift and Akeha has an acute sense of the motivations behind people’s actions. But it’s not only about them anymore, as they have grown older, a rebellion has been brewing. Their roles within the system, and potentially under their mother’s thumb, will have more significance than they ever knew.
What first drew my attention to this novella series, was the rumblings about a non-binary character taking center stage. And I was not disappointed at all. In this book, gender is not a given, especially not at birth. Instead the characters are non-binary until they become ‘confirmed’, which is a ceremony of their choosing. At this time, they are able to choose a gender. Talk about some great gender fluid representation here. I loved each and every part of this world building element, because of the way it was dropped into our lives. There were nuanced discussions about whether a character ‘felt’ a certain gender, for those who did not want to confirm as one or the other, and our main characters, twins, who experience and feel differently about this process.
Things I loved
But let’s talk about some more things I loved. It began with a bunch of small touches which drew my attention, such as the map (I am such a sucker for elegant and beautiful maps, if you have a fantasy world, you need a map. Don’t just take my word for it, it is not only a symbol of world building, but also of beauty). And let’s not even begin about how gorgeous the covers for these two novellas are. Drop dead gorgeous.
In the similar vein of world building, I loved the concept of slackcraft, their version of magic, in this story and the way it intersected with the main plot and political foundations of the book. It never felt like we were being dumped in this world with no life preserver, instead it was light, like gentle calligraphy strokes that painted this world for us in front of our very eyes. The Black Tides of Heaven is one hundred percent atmospheric.
Theme wise, there could not be a better title. The entire novella revolves around this question of fate – can we escape the black tides of heaven? There is this metaphor of a strong undertow, events of free will and the universe, that we are submersed in. Do we have the power or even potential to fight these black tides? Obviously with a prophet the entire nature of fate is going to be essential to the story, but some of my favorite quotes revolve around their exploration of this central conflict.
Whether we feel our lives are foretold, or not, from birth, how do we make our own mark and exert our own agency? Even now, reflecting back on this novella, there are so many subtle references to this idea of fate versus self-determination that rise to the surface. It is a true testament to the brilliance of Yang’s writing.
Some other elements of the story I enjoyed were the romances, the sibling relationships, and the characters. Being slightly estranged from my own siblings, reading about Mokoya and Akeha’s relationship was tender. There were moments when we have fights, say things we don’t mean, and make mistakes. I also really liked the romances within the story, for completely different reasons: one for its passion and defiance, and another for its strength. Most of the story is from Akeha’s perspective and I found this refreshing. Akeha is a refreshingly different main character, in that there is a genuine quest for this idea of fate and purpose. It was fascinating to read about their feelings as a character, whose whole life is full of expectations and external forces.
I knew I would fall in love with Mokoya’s perspective and am so thrilled that the sequel seems to be from their perspective. I won’t say too much, since I haven’t read the next one and feel like the depth of my feelings will be better explained in my review of the sequel. If you are at all intrigued about anything of what I said: magic, diverse representation, or a story about fate, The Black Tides of Heaven is a novella you should pick up. And pick up the sequel at the same time, you won’t regret it.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from the publisher.
What is your favorite book with magic?
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