The Fifth Season (Broken Earth #1)
by N.K. Jemisin
Published by Orbit (2015)
The Obelisk Gate (Broken Earth #2)
by N.K. Jemisin
Published by Orbit (2016)
The Stone Sky (Broken Earth #3)
by N.K. Jemisin
Published by Orbit (2017)
This year I have several goals I’d like to accomplish with my book-reading. The first, of course, is a target number. What’s more important to me, however, is that I’m able to accomplish reading a diverse set of books over the course of the year. Diverse in terms of genre and in terms of authors I read. And I plan to do this by spending more time searching for books. Additionally, there’s this quest to read authors in full – so I can comment critically on their style of writing. The final desire I have is to be able to critically review books – from a literary perspective, I’d like to understand more about genres and offer more comments on writing.
A small step to that is writing this blog. This context is essential to understand why I read N.K. Jemisin. In 2017 November, I stumbled across Cixin Liu’s Three-Body Problem/Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy – which absolutely blew me away. While I was on the Internet, I discovered that Jemisin not only beat Liu’s final installment to a Hugo Award, but bagged herself three consecutive Hugos. That is not an easily accomplishable feat. I have found few Award-winning books to really resonate with me, so I thought I’d give it a shot. This is one of those series’, which for me, built-up over the course of the three books – which is reflected in my ratings of the trilogy.
How do you start to review a series that repeatedly explores the way the world ends?
The premise of the series is intriguing. The Broken Earth trilogy is set on a massive continent called the Stillness, in a far-future Earth wracked with periodic disasters known as Seasons. These Seasons aren’t just bad storms: they’re massive, apocalyptic events that last for generations, reshaping the world and its inhabitants. Those who survive huddle into Comms, protected communities that try to wait out the destruction, then crawl out and rebuild civilization before the next event. There are also remnants of an advanced civilization that persist throughout the destruction: giant, floating crystals called Obelisks.
Among the survivors of humanity are “orogenes,” individuals who can draw incredible magical power from reservoirs of the Earth. But while these orogenes serve a useful purpose for society, their training and treatment is brutal. They’re taken from their homes as children and brought to the Fulcrum, an order that trains and certifies them under the supervision of yet another order, known as the Guardians. When the Seasons come, they’re often singled out for death from Stills, their non-magical counterparts.
Good fantasy is always enjoyable to read because of the origins of thought and premises. In that regard, the series is fantastic. Jemisin is rare in her ability to understand the vastness and scalar nature of time when it comes to geology, but more crucially, is able to apply this understanding to create a sense of linear plot development. Her characters are well-crafted, and the shifting perspectives she provides for the central figures are refreshing and enjoyable, throughout all three books.
My independent assessment of the books, however, largely vary. I believe The Fifth Season was a lot of world-building, which is understandable for a trilogy, but did not create the level of plot engagement that I desired. There’s a lot in terms of plot-line convergence – in that Jemisin tries to reach conclusions to strands of thought that have begun, but in places, the book is agonizingly difficult to read – especially in its description of child abuse. It also made the protagonists difficult to like. If that was a deliberate choice, I think it affected a large part of my reading experience, which reflects in a lower rating.
The Obelisk Gate does a great job of balancing world-building and plot – which reflects in a 4-star rating. I think a large reason why I enjoyed it a little more was also because of the fact that I had context to why the world was so bizarre. If you’re someone who Wikipedia searches for plots and jumps in to the middle of the series, I think it might get slightly difficult to enjoy this one. What I especially enjoyed was the diversity in the cast – something that develops especially here. As a piece of feminist literature, and I use the tag deliberately, the book is able to explain oppression and power-dynamics a lot better than other fictional pieces. It gets you thinking. Being the middle-book, it does a fair enough job of creating longing for the conclusion. I docked points here because the writing and dialogue became boring in parts, dipping in their pace and their efficacy – and I say this as someone who enjoyed Lord of the Rings and other Tolkien works thoroughly.
The Stone Sky is downright incredible. It is the most fitting conclusion to the series, it’s difficult to imagine things ending any other way whatsoever. Jemisin’s writing hits peaks in it’s descriptiveness and it’s sense of apocalyptic society. It mirrors exactly what society is today. If the previous book got me thinking about power dynamics, this book got me thinking about internal prejudices a lot more. The dialogue is extremely powerful – and creates a sense of focus about the human experience and a pleasurable existence, in terms of having a family you love, and a support system that helps you overcome anything in the world. The prose is delightful and enjoyable. The characters make unexpected choices, but reasoned ones – and the reasoning is one that keeps you hooked.
It is, by far the best conclusion to a series I’ve read. I’d recommend the series on the whole – I think it’s worth reading. Fighting breaks in momentum with the first book might take time, but it’s a series that’ll keep you hooked once you start. Every Age must indeed come to an end.