Getting one last review done before the year ends! Actually, it’s a review of three books – N.K. Jemisin‘s Broken Earth Trilogy, which is made up of The Fifth Season (2015), followed by The Obelisk Gate (2016), and finally The Stone Sky (2017). I first started reading the series in August, got through The Fifth Season in September, and immediately started The Obelisk Gate. I started The Stone Sky in the beginning of November but only finished it last night, December 26. In retrospect, I guess I should have blogged about the three books individually, but at the time, I felt that doing one post about the series would be better (in fact, I was just too lazy to blog and wanted to justify my procrastination).
Anyway, now that I’m done with the series, I’ve no excuse not to post my review. Can I just say ”it’s a great trilogy, go read it!” and be done with it? No? Ok…hmmm….The Fifth Season won the Hugo Award for best novel in 2016, The Obelisk Gate also won the Hugo Award for the best novel in 2017, and The Stone Sky will most likely win N.K. Jemisin her third consecutive Hugo Award. Not convinced yet? Fine, here are some details on why it’s a great trilogy and why you should totally drop what you’re reading right now to read it.
First, the Broken Earth Trilogy is like nothing I’ve ever read before. The story takes place on Earth but not the Earth as we know it. It’s set in the future (I think), when all the continents have fused together to form one big landmass called The Stillness, which is an ironic name for a world that is anything but. Since the beginning of time (or since anyone can remember), the people of The Stillness have had to adapt to survive the Earth’s never-ending cataclysmic changes. The people of The Stillness call such cataclysmic environmental phenomena the “fifth season,” or simply, a “season,” when the world undergoes extreme geological changes that threaten to wipe out humankind. In this world, there are three kinds of people: “stills,” or regular human beings; “orogenes,” which are humans born with special abilities to “feel,” affect, and control the earth; and “guardians,” who are a group of special humans especially made to control orogenes. Aside from the three types of people in The Stillness, there are also the stone eaters, who are humanoid creatures made of stone that sometimes interact with the rest of the population. However, much is known about them (not even by the author herself).
The stills, though virtually useless when it comes to quelling earthquakes, far outnumber the orogenes and therefore rule The Stillness. To survive the Earth’s bad temper and the constant seasons that threatened to render mankind extinct, the stills created a way to control the orogenes and have them use their special powers to keep Earth stable. You’d think having the ability to control geological forces at a time when the Earth is constantly trying to wipe you out would get you revered and obeyed by all, but of course, people who are different are always feared and/or hated by the majority. In The Stillness, orogenes are valued for their abilities, sought after, sheltered, and trained to hone their skills as long as they can be used by the government for their own purposes.
The main character of the Broken Earth Trilogy is you…and by “you” I don’t mean you, the reader, but you, Essun, who is being told the story of your life by an unknown narrator. Don’t worry, you (Essun) and you (reader) will know the identity of this master storyteller in due time. This brings me to the second interesting thing about this novel, which is that it is almost entirely told in the second-person perspective. With most novels written in either the first or third person point of view, I found the second-person POV quite refreshing. The three novels follow a general timeline but jump back and forth in time depending on what the narrator wants you to know. The succeeding novels pick up exactly where the last one ends, though without the reader being aware of it, the time frame of each novel spans years.
“What is it that you want?”
“Only to be with you,” I say.
…”Because that is how one survives eternity,”…”or even a few years. Friends. Family. Moving with them. Moving forward.”
The Broken Earth Trilogy is a fascinating read, with its unique world, people, and history. It is compelling, refreshing, intriguing, and most of the time, downright confusing. But don’t worry, everything will work itself out in the end….or at least just enough for you to find closure and not lose sleep at night thinking about what the heck you just put yourself through. On the surface, The Broken Earth is an exciting story of survival, but underneath, it is a deep novel that isn’t only about the environment but also family ties, especially, motherhood, discrimination, and acceptance.
So, sit back, relax and let the nameless narrator tell you about yourself. Without giving too much away, you are Essun, a middle-aged woman, married with two children, and oh, did I forget to mention that you’re an orogene?
Another thing you need to know…this novel begins on the day the world ends. Have fun! 🙂
The Fifth Season (2015) / The Obelisk Gate (2016) / The Stone Sky (2017) – N.K. Jemisin
Orbit, 468 pages; Orbit, 448 pages; Orbit, 413 pages
Personal rating: 4/5 (individual books, and the entire series)