Science Fiction Book Reviews

Review: The Black Tides of Heaven (Reading the Tensorate Series)

The Black Tides of Heaven is a beautiful piece of magic that enthralls with effortless prose, brilliantly rendered characters, and a story you won’t be able to put down. It’s a silkpunk world filled with strange creatures, inventive technology and cutting-edge gender norms. Take the time to dive into this wonderful world – you won’t be disappointed.

(This is Part 1 of Reading the Tensorate Series, a week-long celebration of The Descent of Monsters’ release and all things silkpunk)

THE BLACK TIDES OF HEAVEN

J.Y. Yang
Tor.com, 2017

QUICK SUMMARY

Two twins, born of their country’s ruler, grow up in a monastery, developing their magical powers and learning to control them. As they grow, they take different paths in life, causing them to separate. The son aligns himself with those bent on defying his mother’s cruel ruling practices. Tensions continue to grow until tragedy strikes, causing him to make a life-changing decision.

WHY I LOVED IT

AN INTRODUCTION TO SILKPUNK

Prior to reading about J.Y. Yang and their trilogy, I was shamefully unaware of silkpunk. The Black Tides of Heaven opened my eyes to the brilliance of adapting Asian culture to a technological world that keeps many of those traditions alive. You still have Eastern-style boats and monasteries, cities and traditions, yet you also have this beautiful magic that yields unique technologies in the form of hover-ships and magical weapons, just to name a few. It’s so refreshing to read something this original. I’m only disappointed that I didn’t discover it sooner.

THE TECH

The beauty of the tech in The Black Tides of Heaven is the magical adaptation of regular technologies we have in daily life. Instead of phones, they have ‘talkers’ that give people the ability to communicate long distance. Instead of photographs, they have mechanisms that use light magic to capture moments, passing those along to artists to create paintings. A later technology in the book can be likened to printed gifs, showing a few seconds of a person in action. There are shocksticks and bombs that require special magic. It’s all familiar tech, but it requires magic to work and there’s always a little something added to it to take it from basic to enchanting.

BREATHTAKING MAGIC

Calling this book’s magic breathtaking barely scrapes the surface. Reading through the vivid descriptions, the strong imagery and brilliant inventions are truly a treat to the imagination. I was hooked when the Great Palace was presented floating on a plane of water, giant fish swimming through the floating barriers. The rooms built with living, growing trees were a beautiful use of magic. The magical force itself is fascinating as the twins navigate it in their early days, and use it to masterfully in their adulthood. Pulling from the Earth and its elements, bending them to their will as they kill or heal or communicate with each other. Yang’s execution is flawless and mesmerizing.

A CONVERSATION ON GENDER

I’ve never encountered a book that so perfectly captured the conversation on gender and the absurdity of assigning it at birth. So many people struggle under the norms placed upon them from an early age, and Yang created a world where gender is self-assigned by the child. Magic is then used to usher them into their chosen place in life. It’s a subject covered with much care.

THE WORLD ITSELF

There are beasts pulled straight from lore and mythology, monasteries pulled from early history, technologies both mundane and mystical. Magic runs through everything – it fuels transportation, it’s a method for ruling and fighting, it can heal and build and wound and kill. You’ve got the evil ruler counteracted by the rebellion slowly growing in numbers and power. At the center, you have two fantastic and flawed protagonists trying to figure out their places in the world, trying to remain connected to each other while miles apart. It’s a wonderful world and I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

CONCEPTS

Silkpunk, Magic, Magical Realism, Creatures, Ruling Class, Nobility, Class Struggles, Eastern Culture

WHERE TO BUY

Barnes & Noble
Amazon

CITATION

Yang, J.Y. The Black Tides of Heaven. Tor.com, 2017.

Interested in more books like The Black Tides of Heaven? Read our book reviews here.

Photo by Jay Castor on Unsplash