“The Black Tides of Heaven” by J.Y. Yang

I won’t lie, the main reason why I wanted to read this book is because it has a beautiful cover. The cover was illustrated by Yuko Shimizu and I did a post all about her design for it last year. Yea, I like it that much.

I was surprised and glad when I saw a copy of The Black Tides of Heaven chilling on the new books self at my library. I quickly grabbed it before anyone else could and ran home with it to immediately start reading. I was not disappointed.

Quick summary:

The Black Tides of Heaven is the first novella in the silkpunk fantasy series, Tensorate. It’s about a set of twins whose mother serves as Protector of their kingdom. The twins were given away to the Grand Monastery to settle a bargain the Protector had made with the Head Abbot. But when it’s discovered that one of the twins, Mokoya, has prophetic powers, the Protector takes back her child so she can use Mokoya’s powers for her own means.

This novella focuses on Akeha, who is often disregarded and overlooked as everyone focuses on Mokoya’s powers. As Akeha matures and learns about growing resistance to the Protector’s influence, Akeha decides to run away and find their own path, which leads to joining the resistance. (Goodreads)

My thoughts:

I enjoyed reading the story and was surprised that I was hooked on it because the synopsis doesn’t sound like something I’d go for. However, the cover is really beautiful and I was willing to try the story because of it. I’m glad I did.

This story was a different reading experience for me. In this society, people are gender neutral until they declare the gender they identify with, after which they may or may not undergo surgery for that gender. The story is told in limited third-person, so gender neutral pronouns are used unless a character has chosen to identify with a particular gender.

Reading a story that uses gender neutral pronouns — singular “they” and “them” — was a new experience for me. I’ve read short articles where singular “they” is sometimes used, but this is the first I’ve read an entire story where the narrator uses singular “they” instead of “he” or “she.” Unfortunately, it sometimes led to confusion on my part. Often, I’d read a sentence and assume “they” was being used as plural, then get confused and have to reread the sentence after realizing “they” was being used as singular.

However, my difficulty with the pronouns used didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the story. I was hooked the entire time I read and was eager to learn more about the world, which seems to have more than one night in a day. There’s enough world building for readers to understand how characters function in the world, but I wish there was more because I haven’t got a firm handle on how exactly that world works. But maybe that explanation isn’t needed in the story. I’m just super curious about how the time of day works in that world.

As I read, I became increasingly curious about Akeha’s abilities. (Btw, I will use singular “they” and “them” to refer to the main characters to avoid spoilers about the gender they later choose.) Since Mokoya is the special twin because of their prophetic powers, not much is said about Akeha’s abilities, though this story is about them. It made me curious about it and made me wonder if Akeha is as extraordinary as their twin but no one realizes because the focus is on Mokoya. However, as Akeha matures, we realize that they are a total badass!

I don’t like Akeha much because I think they are arrogant and snooty to their twin out of jealousy, but I am a fan of Akeha because of their badassery and also because of how blunt they are. Because this is a novella, the plot progresses quickly, which worked for me; however, I wish the book was longer so we could get more details on how Akeha matured over the years to become the adult they are toward the end.

Speaking of the end, I didn’t like it. I understand the mercy, and threat, in it, but I wanted a big fight.

Overall: ★★★☆☆

It’s a good, fast read that could be completed in one sitting if you have the time.

Buy | Borrow | Bypass

Though if you love the cover, I’d say go treat yourself and Buy it. 😀

I think it’s worth the read, especially if you’d like to try something new in the fantasy genre or would like to read fantasy influenced by Asian culture or fantasy that includes gender diversity.


32 thoughts on ““The Black Tides of Heaven” by J.Y. Yang

  1. Interesting! I think this one is on my never-ending wish list…or I’ve just seen it around a lot. Haha. I’m getting used to the “they/them” after reading authors like Becky Chambers and Sarah Gailey. It can take some getting used to though and there are times when it seems like a group of people instead of a singular person. I’ve also read “xyr” (I think I’m spelling that right) which is like genderless. I actually prefer that, simply because for the majority of my life, they has been a plural.


    1. Lol, you’ve probably seen it around a lot. I think it’s the first I’ve heard of xyr, though it does look familiar. I think I’ll have to try another book that features genderless characters. I so used to ordering my world by gender that it was interesting to read about characters who are genderless. However, I did consider the characters gendered, or gave them genders in my head, when they were said to be genderless. It was hard to move past that and stop doing it. I think if they were genderless for the entire book, then I would have eventually started considering them so too.


      1. Yeah I don’t know how to picture a character without assigning some loose gender. I’m too conditioned. I tried to make my mental images more androgynous but still. Check out Gailey’s river of teeth series. Also Elizabeth bear’s stone in the skull.


  2. Just thinking about it, i can see where the they/them would get very confusing reading it sometimes. The cover is definitely interesting. I like the idea of a society where everyone is gender neutral until they declare.


    1. It was definitely a new and interesting concept to me – genderless until one declares a gender. Reading the story revealed to me how much I rely on gender to order my world. I keep assuming a gender for the characters though they were genderless and it was hard to stop doing that.


    1. The singular they/them was confusing, but also see the need for a gender nonbinary pronoun. The author is nonbinary, so this is an own voices book too.
      As I read, I wondered if there’s another way to indicate singular by using a gender nonbinary word, but the only other word I could think of was “it,” which though it could work, it’s comes off as derogatory and disrespectful when applied to a person.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Yeah that cover is gorgeous!! Interesting concept- unfortunately I’ve read another book which frankly misused the plural pronoun and ended it ended up confusing me no end. I’ll be honest and admit I like grammar too much to go in for it- but glad you enjoyed it overall.


  4. I wonder if your thoughts on this one, particularly with the ending, would change if you read the Red book (title I forget) too? I know that technically they can be read in any order, and I believe that each contain information relevant to each other too?


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