End Date: July 30th
Author: N. K. Jemisin
Pages: 512 (paperback)
Selected By: Elle Tea
“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.” – from the author’s website.
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.
“When the reasoning mind is forced to confront the impossible again and again, it has no choice but to adapt.”
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.
“Father Earth thinks in ages, but he never, ever sleeps. Nor does he forget.”
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.
“This is what you must remember: the ending of one story is just the beginning of another. This has happened before, after all. People die. Old orders pass. New societies are born. When we say, ‘the world has ended,’ it’s usually a lie, because the planet is just fine.”
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.
“… neither myths nor mysteries can hold a candle to the most infinitesimal spark of hope.”
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 an Interim Review here shortly after completing it.
Elle’s Favorite Character(s): Hoa & Alabaster.
Elle Tea read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.
“But much of history is unwritten. Remember this.”
This was a great book – in fact, I think that I might have read this pick faster than all the rest of our monthly book selections so far! The reason I didn’t give it 5 teacups is because, while it was great, I still couldn’t rank it as one of the best books I have ever read.
“There is an art to smiling in a way that others will believe. It is always important to include the eyes; otherwise, people will know you hate them.” [I feel the pain in this quote, as I find myself fake smiling when talking to people and think that they have to know that our conversation is not working out.]
Out of our three main characters, I like Damaya the most. She was sweet and brave and I felt most connected to her. You were able to see her develop into a strong person as her story progressed. Syenite was my second favorite. I felt that she had something inside her holding her back from people (I would too if this was me and should you read this book you will realize why). I liked that she was self sufficient but thought that maybe she could be a wee bit nicer to her companion Alabaster. Again she has her reasons but I found myself wanting her to be a little nicer.
“She was not in Yumenes, thankfully, or this would be a very short take. And you would not exist.” [I like this because I will find myself reading a book or watching a movie and will let out a wailing, “Whhhhhhyyyyyyyyyyyy!”. Then I have to ask myself, “Well Billmo if that didn’t just happen would we have a story to enjoy?” Then I find myself giving a begrudging, “No.” to myself.]
This leaves my least favorite out of the three: Essun. I found myself listening to her and wanting her to step up more. I know she had been through some pretty traumatic things, so I get the reason as to why she was, but I always found myself wanting more out of her. She felt very disconnected to her surroundings and, again, I know it’s because of her situation, but this disconnect from everything else in the world is what kept me from liking her more than I did. I found myself wanting her to open up; I can’t blame her for not doing so, but I also can’t help wishing that for her character.
“Of course, a man who would beat his own child to death might not still fit the label of sane. And a woman who found that child and stopped thinking for three days…hmm, not you, either. Nothing to do but follow your crazy, though.” [What I liked about this quote is she admits that she is also crazy. I find myself having inner monologues like this and that’s why I liked this part so much. I found that I could relate to thinking through things like this.]
There was something you found out about these three ladies that was great and yet disappointing at the same time. This may have been one of my overall reasons for giving the novel 4 cups rather than 5, too – I caught onto what was going on early in, hoped it wasn’t so, and was disappointed when it was.
“‘Stonelore changes all the time, Syenite.’ He doesn’t say her name often, either. It gets her attention.” [I liked this because the people closest to me call me by nicknames and it just feels wrong when they call me my real name. It feels like when your mom calls you by your full name because you’re in trouble.]
I am very excited about the second book coming out and will be reading it, since I like this one so much. And I will leave you with the remainder of my favorite quotes from this book, of which there were so very many but I condensed down to just these few:
“Politeness is an insult in the face of what she’s seen.”
“‘Children are the undoing of us,’ Alabaster says, his eyes full of the fire.”
“Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall; Death is the fifth, and master of all.”
“But then, how can they? Who misses what they have never, ever even imagined? That would not be human nature. How fortunate, then, that there are more people in this world than just humankind.”
“Accuracy is sacrificed in the name of better poetry.”
“When the reasoning mind is forced to confront the impossible again and again, it has no choice but to adapt.”
At the point of the story that you read, “With you, we live” I got chills and they were electrifying.
“Never forget Father Earth. He has not forgotten you.“
Also, I highlighted this: “In the first crucible” only because I read it as “In the first cubicle” and found myself feeling silly and laughing aloud, and I’d like you to have a nice laugh at my expense, too. 🙂
BillMo’s Favorite Character(s): My favorite character altogether was Hoa. I thought he was mysterious and funny. You find out something about him of where he comes from and it makes you think, “Do these individuals attach themselves to particular orogenes? Is it like a familiar? I don’t know”. But if I was a character in this series, I would like to be like Hoa’s people.
BillMo read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.
This is a well written novel that had me questioning if some events were simultaneous. The focus is on three different female characters that had me feeling empathic to sheer disdain. Each’s experience is traumatic in its own way. However, how each chooses to deal with their circumstances is the course of the novel is very different and at times I can empathize or despise their choices and behaviors.
The character compositions are physically unique as well as the four main character “races.” We have regular humans, who appear to be just background noise in the book, with many different jobs and backgrounds. Then we have the orogenes. While they appear human, they are gifted, or cursed, with the ability to control the land around them. They are able to manipulate the land to the point where they are able to prevent or create “natural” disasters. We have their overseers in the Guardians. They are charged with protecting the orgeny as well as guarding against rogue orgeny. Finally we have the Stone Eaters. We do not receive much of a description of them other than that they aren’t human, have the ability manipulate rock and feed on it.
As the story begins we see a grieving mother in Essun. She is an orogene who has hidden her existence from her husband and the village or Comm that they belong to. In her grief, she forces herself to not think until she has to in an effort to keep emotions at bay and protect the village after the shake she quelled prior to it’s arrival at their gates. Now, as the story progresses she goes from being numb, to determined, to uncaring about anyone but seeking revenge on her husband. I find her to be sympathetic because she is grieving, but irritating because she is also very prickly with those she barely knows, which is understandable. Her conflicted need to keep Hoa at a distance, but to also care for him as she draws on her motherly affections innately is indicative of her state of mind. She wants to be vengeful for her loss and to reunite with her daughter and is reluctantly drawn into aiding Hoa and Binof. I feel her character is sympathetic to a degree. There are still some things missing from the picture for her that I can’t make a decision on whether I’m truly behind her or if I’d write her off as useless.
We are subsequently introduced to Demaya, an adolescent girl who has been locked into her barn and treated less than an animal by her own mother. While I understand the family was in an impossible position as Demaya is an orogene who, while unknown what she was, harmed the Comm bully. The bigotry against orogeny by Comms caused them to relegate her away from society. What I take exception to, is that she was treated less than human or even an animal. No blanket or coat for the winter, even though she is placed in a barn. No contact between her and her family while she was in this “protective custody” until the Guardians arrival to take custody of Demaya. We are also introduced to Schaffa, her Guardian. He shows her a kindness that she has not known from even her own mother and I was relieved. Then there is the hand incident that made question his true motivations. His explanation was clear, that she must obey or risk pain and even death. He then soothed and healed the hurt he caused. Psychological warfare? Stockholm Syndrome? Whatever you wish to call it, Demaya became a willing supplicant because she had never known such guidance, kindness and care before. With her new life in the Fulcrum, Demaya strived to make Schaffa proud, to learn as much as she could and achieve as much as she could. Her fellow trainees couldn’t appreciate her dedication to studying their “craft” and resented her for being the nerd she was. However, Demaya shows a strength and resilience that only a child could in face of such adversity and I could root for her. Of the three main characters, she’s the one I empathized with the most, annoyed me the least and had me hoping for a better life, even if it was in servitude.
Finally, we come to Syenite. I can say unequivocally, I despised Syenite. Granted, she too, has a pretty subjugated existence, which should have drawn my ire, and did. However, her general attitude made me wish her off the pages to do her bodily harm at risk of being “iced”. As an adult orogene who is in the service of the Fulcrum, I felt a bit annoyed for her because she was basically told, “breed” and with whom to breed. So she has no control over her life, as the Fulcrum dictates her every move including reproductive activities does give her a right to be ornery. However, just as she is being dictated to, the poor guy who has to do the deed with her is also being dictated to. She is single-minded and self-important midlevel lackey. She cannot even bring herself to understand that she knows barely half of what she should know when she encounters Alabaster who is six levels above her station and able to drawn on power in a way she doesn’t even understand. Her open loathing of Alabaster was just too much for me. Yet, she softens when she needs to with him, showing a kindness that she is unable to ordinarily show. I can attribute her hardness to her lifestyle. I can understand building a wall and attempting to keep your emotional and physically safe, but her general conceited attitude just pissed me off to no end throughout the novel. While she does have a child and the idea of the child living in captivity of the Fulcrum leave both her and Alabaster with a cold sense of dread, I completely understand the by any means necessary attitude she takes. However, the extreme measure she takes only served to make me dislike her even more.
While Schaffa is basically an overseer, I do believe that his intentions are good. There are questions raised in the book as to how the Guardians come into being and what is their true nature. If they are part orogene or if the orogene are descendant of them is my question. I suppose I would have to follow the series to the end to get some of my questions answered. Schaffa is interesting to me, I believe he has a nurturing heart, but will teach a hard lesson if he must. I find it hard to view him as a villain, even though he works for a questionable organization by my estimation. So, as with life, there are always those who may work for an organization that has harsh and unrelenting rules, but the person is reluctant agent that has bought into the dogma of the organization. I think even questions it when he asks Demaya to “pass the ring test for him.” That made me think that even his position is questionable and he is at risk.
Hoa is a bit of a mystery and even the author says he and his kind are a mystery to the world as Stone Eater. He is quiet and willing to please. He appears to be a child in search of a mother figure and latches onto Assun quickly. She is suspicious of him and maybe she should be considering the life she had led to that point. However, I liked is quiet way. When he needed to take action he did. Otherwise, he was glad to be as unassuming as possible, which may be a state for his kind.
Ultimately, this tale was well written and I did enjoy the world that the author wove for us. She did a great job in creating a world that was tumultuous, ever changing and wrought with many perils, both physical and emotional. The only reason this novel didn’t get a 5 from me is that although she reconciled the characters for me, to an extent, and made me think of how complex the situation was, I still felt the development of some of the characters took a wee bit too long. So in truth, it probably deserves a 5 because it was well written, carefully devised and wonderfully rendered, but I just wasn’t head over heels for it.
Esbe’s Favorite Character(s): Hoa & Schaffa.
Lady Esbe read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.