As a huge fan of N.K. Jemisin’s The Inheritance Trilogy, I had massively high hopes for her new series, The Broken Earth… and unlike previous moments of excitedly high expectations that set the bar impossibly high for following novels, Jemisin in no way disappointed or fell short.
The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth #1)
Author: N. K. Jemisin
Version: Amazon Kindle
“This is the way the world ends… again. It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, from which enough ash spews to darken the sky for years – or centuries. It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter. It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester. And it ends with you. You are the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where orogenes wield the power of the earth as a weapon and are feared far more than the long cold night. And you will have no mercy.”
One of my most common issues with books – especially fantasy-genre novels – is the tendency for authors to be too lazy, unseasoned, or unskilled to take the time to show their world and characters to their audience. It’s far easier to simply tell people what they ought to see and how they ought to feel about things than to force them, using nothing more than words, to see or feel those things on their own. There are few authors who have the innate ability or will take the time to bother showing rather than telling – but the ones who do stand out as true artists in a sea of self-published tripe. Tolkien was one. Pratchett was one. Gaiman, Valente, and Rothfuss are such authors. And so, too, is Jemisin.
Showing versus telling is so important, especially with fantasy novels (and I’d say a lot of horror novels need more help in this area, as well). Most books will keep readers outside of the story; they’re telling us a tale, nothing more, and we’re spectators – caught up as we may become in a well-spun yarn, we never get past the fact that we’re sitting around reading a book. Authors who take the time to show you their world, to put you there yourself and force you to see what they see, to feel what their characters feel, to forget who and where you are for even a little while, are true modern magicians. With their words they transport us completely, and for a few hours we forget about our lives and the troubles of our world – they force us to participate, to get off the sidelines and get in the game, to become the heroes (or villains) of their worlds for a while.
We are the schoolteacher Essun, the revenant who found happiness in a small town… only to have her family ripped apart from the inside. Our hearts are broken, and we kneel on that floor with her, mourning our dead son, mourning all he represented, mourning, mourning, mourning until we’re nearly mad with our own grief and hopelessness. When she makes her way across the country in search of what’s left of her family, we go with her, numb and speechless, with nothing left but the flame of vengeance where our hearts once were.
But we are also the youthful Damaya. Her hope replenishes our drained reserves, and her bravery and fearlessness rejuvenate our souls. She things she’s alone in the barn, but we’re with her, we are her, saddened by our family’s fear, confused by their anger, enraged at their betrayal. We are frightened of the man to whom they give us, we are thrilled at the prospect of our new future. We run with her through the passages of her school, ducking Guardians and unlocking hidden doors, learning forbidden secrets, growing towards a future we are sure must be better than the past we left behind.
And then we are Syenite. Burning, blazing with anger and intolerance for our companion, disliking him for what he refuses to do, and disliking him even more for what he’s willing to do. We learn forgiveness with her. And we learn to love with her. And then… then we learn to hate.
Damaya is the flesh, pure and untouched. Syenite is the gaping wound, left untreated to bleed itself into a dull ache. And Essun is the scar, on the surface feeling nothing, and yet beneath made up of nothing but old, unforgotten hurts.
All three of these very distinct characters represent a race called the orogenes: humanoid creatures with the innate ability to control all of the earth around them, from the plates beneath the deepest depths of the ocean to the topmost stone of the highest mountain. The plot of the story itself is driven forward primarily by the discordant symbiotic relations between the orogenes and their human counterparts: the latter mistrust and fear the power of the former and seek only to control them – and those who refuse to be enslaved are simply eliminated; the orogenes, meanwhile, have learned to mistrust and fear themselves almost as much as the humans do, and struggle to find their place in a chaotic, shifting world that clearly requires their power while simultaneously accepting, at least temporarily, their lots in life while hoping for better days to come. Added to this mix are the Guardians, the keepers of those orogeny deemed acceptable for use by human society (or at least those human societies who have the coin to pay for the privilege of having an orogeny manipulate the land on their behalf), and the new and relatively mysterious race born of and sustained by stone referred to simply as the Stone Eaters.
All in all, I found this to be as brilliant a tale and as fabulous a cast as I have come to expect from the creator of Nahadoth the Nightlord and Sieh the Trickster. The second book of the series, The Obelisk Gate, is scheduled for release on August 16th – I have it on pre-order, fully intend to read it ASAP, and will no doubt be providing a review here shortly after completing it.