The Genesis of Misery by Neon Yang

This is the story of Misery Nomaki (she/they) – a nobody from a nowhere mining planet who possesses the rare stone-working powers of a saint. Unfortunately, these saint-like abilities also manifest in those succumbing to voidmadness, like that which killed Misery’s mother. Knowing they aren’t a saint but praying they aren’t voidmad, Misery keeps quiet about their power for years, while dreaming and scheming up ways off their Forge-forsaken planet.

But when the voice of an angel, or a very convincing delusion, leads Misery to the center of the Empire, they find themself trapped between two powerful and dangerous factions, each hoping to use Misery to win a terrible war.

Still waiting to be convinced of their own divinity and secretly training with a crew of outlaws and outcasts, Misery grows close to a rebel royal, Lady Alodia Lightning, who may know something of saints and prophecy herself. The voice that guides Misery grows bolder by the day, and it seems the madness is catching…

*****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

I had zero knowledge of this book going in, other than my love for Yang’s writing, and man what a weird fucking book this was. Personally, I loved it. There’s a lot of aspects that really shouldn’t work, the intense religious fervor being top of that list, but somehow Yang has managed to craft a brilliant story.

The Genesis of Misery is not a story for the faint of heart. It’s one of those sci-fi novels that drops you in the middle of the actions (in this case, a jailbreak) and says a bunch of in-world terms at you, and expects the reader to figure things out from context clues. When the author can do this skillfully, this is one of my favorite ways to experience fantasy/sci-fi worldbuilding, and Yang certainly has the skill. Also included are short interlude chapters, spaced out just as the reader is on the brink of giving up because words are too confusing, that provide enough historical context to re-affirm or correct what readers thought a word meant.

The backdrop of Misery is a fairly simple one: humanity left their home planet in a generational spaceship, and on the brink of annihilation, is saved by a mysterious “diety” referred to as the Larex Forge, who grant eight Messiahs sainthood and lead humanity to prosper. Following biblical parallels, two of those eight Messiahs reject the Forge’s teaching, splintering humanity between the Heretics and the Faithful, who’ve been in conflict ever since.

It’s many generations later where Misery takes place, where country-bumpkin Misery has conned some Important People into thinking she’s the next Messiah and now has to lay in the bed she’s made. We delve deep into the fascinating, if concerning, mind of Misery Nomaki as she is forced to carry out this con, finding herself in more and more precarious situations, all while convinced she’s going mad with a literal voice in her head giving her instructions that sound suspiciously like the Larex Forge’s messages.

Where I suspect people will love or hate this book is due to how ‘in Misery’s head’ the narration is. We spend so long following her every train of thought: doubts, suspicious, madness, etc, that the character development for almost everyone else, as well as some of the teased worldbuildng secrets, fall to the wayside.

A great example of this is Ghost, a white saint who Misery ends up working with. Saints, blessed by the Larex Forge, are randomly chosen amongst the populace and have the unique ability of sustaining themselves purely from starlight, no human food required. Also they’re extra shiny and can control these cool holy rocks. At the beginning of the story, Misery encounters these white saints and quickly realizes the Empire of the Faithful have learned to clone saints, but they’re kinda creepy and not fully human, but we never really dig further into that topic because Misery’s off doing other things. One of my favorite character archetypes is ‘robot-like characters slowly discovering their humanity’ and we sadly only see this in throwaway line descriptors of what Ghost was doing compared to other people in this team.

Without giving away the ending, I will say that I was surprised to learn upon finishing the book that this is supposed to be a trilogy. In the worldbuilding and the characters there a lot left unexplored, but as a story of Misery Nomaki, it was complete. I’m really curious to see where Yang will go from here, especially because there’s much in this Heretic vs Faithful conflict that’s clearly not what it seems.

Overall, I rate this book a 4.5/5. The story and the setup for the worldbuilding were just incredible, and Yang handles the weird weird psyche of Misery Nomaki with finesse. This is certainly a book that you need to read twice, once for the story and once to pick up all the clues you missed because you lacked context.


r/Fantasy 2022-23 Bingo Squares:

  • Set in Space (hard mode)
  • Anti-Hero
  • Name in the Title
  • Published in 2022
  • Features Mental Health
  • BIPOC author
  • Features Biological Family Ties

Publication Date: 27 September 2022
Publisher: Tor Books
Format: eBook, ARC
Pages: 432
Word Count: ~122,000
ISBN: 9781250788979
Buy It Here: Amazon | Google Books | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

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