If you like genre-defying books, page-turners full of unpredictable twists, or stories about siblings, you don’t want to miss Temper.
Temper is the second book I’ve read by Nicky Drayden; it’s just as weird as her debut The Prey of Gods, and even better. I also fear it will be just as underrated, and I really don’t want that to happen, because this is one of the best SFF novels I’ve read this year.
Temper is set in an alternate Cape Town, South Africa, in which colonization didn’t happen and every person has a twin. The seven vices and virtues are split between each pair of twins; “lesser” twins (who have more vices) are discriminated. But Temper‘s worldbuilding is so much more than just this aspect: from the first chapters, the reader is introduced to a society full of contradictions and mysteries, with its own magic and history, and to the conflict between science and religion, still alive in this city.
The setting was fascinating – the descriptions of the comfy, the mysteries of wu, the magical school with flying librarians… it was as beautiful as it was bizarre.
Another really interesting thing about this society is that there are three genders that a person can be assigned at birth: male, female and kigen (twins born intersex are assigned kigen, I think?); kigens use ey/eir pronouns. I love books that include neopronouns and worldbuilding that isn’t binarist and includes trans characters – one of the side characters is a trans girl who was assigned kigen at birth.
All the characters in this book are morally gray. They have vices, they hurt each other, some are possessed by terrible entities, but they find a way to make it work. Temper is at its heart a story about siblings, and if you want to read something in which the romantic elements are barely there but there are developed, complex family dynamics, you should read this book. Auben’s and Kasim’s family is a mess, an awesome one, and I loved reading about it. All the other side characters were just as compelling.
This book is weird. It’s a book I want to recommend, but if weird books aren’t for you – if you like things to have an explanation, if you like the line between science fiction and fantasy to be clearly defined – this may not work for you either. But if you do like weird, don’t pass on this one. All the weird things happening weren’t even what surprised me the most: this book is full of plot twists, and not one of them was really predictable or came completely out of nowhere.
I didn’t like all the aspects of the writing as much as I hoped. I did love reading Auben’s PoV, because flawed, messy teenagers are my favorites, and I loved the humor – this book is one of the funniest I’ve read this year and it’s not even comedy – but the pacing didn’t work for me.
I don’t know exactly how to explain it – it’s like the book was always trying to get somewhere else, so much that many scenes felt rushed, that many things weren’t described, that I never understood how much time passed between scenes.
The result is a bit confusing sometimes, but it was worth it for me.
My rating: ★★★★¾