N. K. Jemisin was the well-deserved winner of her third Hugo Award for Best Novel with The Stone Sky this year, making her the first author to win the award three years in a row and the first author to win the award for every book in the same series.
I finally finished the Broken Earth trilogy earlier this year when I read The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky after reading and loving The Fifth Season at the beginning of 2017. I’ve said in the past how I’m a terrible finisher, especially when it comes to a series, but it seems to be a curse 2018 has broken and once I finished The Obelisk Gate I needed to know what happened in The Stone Sky.
Set in the Stillness, a world that may have once been our own, the series follows characters who are forced to battle the elements when intense climate change, brought about by the furious ‘Father Earth’, destroys the planet and forces humanity to start from scratch. Some people in the Stillness are ‘orogenes’, people who are able to control the elements, but because people fear and hate Father Earth, they also fear and hate orogenes, who are essentially treated like slaves throughout their lives.
Essun is an orogene who’s been living in hiding with her husband, who has no idea what she really is, and their two children. When a Fifth Season begins and Essun returns home to find that her husband has murdered their son and abducted their daughter, she must set off across a post-apocalyptic landscape to find her.
This is one of the best fantasy series I’ve ever read, so I couldn’t resist taking the time to explain why you need to read it if you haven’t already!
Read it for… one of the greatest heroines in SFF
Essun isn’t always a particularly likeable character, but I firmly believe that a character doesn’t have to be likeable to be a good character. Severus Snape, for example, is a terrible person, but he’s a brilliant character.
Essun, thankfully, isn’t like Snape, but she is one of the most complex and realistic women I have ever read in a fantasy novel. Her life is hard and none of her choices are ever easy, but nothing she goes through feels as though it’s happening just so Jemisin can shock us or upset us. Even when we might not sympathise with her we can understand her, and that makes for an incredibly compelling protagonist.
Read it for… the focus on motherhood
Maybe it’s just me, but I’m weak for a book or series that tackles a relationship between a mother and her daughter and does it well. Essun is not necessarily a good mother, but she is the best mother she can be given her wider circumstances, and her relationship with her daughter, Nassun, becomes more and more fascinating and heartbreaking as the series continues. Nassun is another multi-faceted and compelling character; a child in a post-apocalyptic setting wonderfully realised by Jemisin’s writing.
Read it for… a believable post-apocalyptic setting
Speaking of post-apocalyptic settings, this one is intense. The Stillness is terrifying and brutal, though no more than the world already is for its orogenes, and Jemisin writes the apocalypse so realistically; by focusing on Essun and the characters she encounters, she turns the apocalypse into a personal experience, and by doing so all the hardships are more keenly felt than if she tried to write about the whole world.
Read it for… morally grey characters
There is no such thing as black and white in this series, there are only characters and what the rest of the world has done to them. If you love your characters complex then this is the series for you.
Even better, the majority of this cast are people of colour and there are entire scenes in which military strategies are discussed by a group of women who just so happen to be the ones in charge. There are men, women, children, characters with disabilities, trans characters, non-heterosexual characters and even a polyamorous relationship. The character work in this series is exquisite.
Read it for… genre-bending SFF
Jemisin herself describes the Broken Earth as a fantasy trilogy, but it straddles the line between fantasy and science fiction beautifully. The characters come into contact with technologies they have no other word for but ‘magic’, while we might recognise them as something more technological, and it was so refreshing to read a fantasy series that wasn’t all about swords and sorcery. Fantasy worlds are whole new worlds, after all – do they all have to be set in the Dark Ages?
If you can’t tell already, I absolutely adored this trilogy and I urge you to check it out for yourself! Essentially if you love the sound of a story with hints of Avatar: The Last Airbender only much more brutal, then this is the best series you haven’t read yet.