Series Review: The Broken Earth
Wilbur and The Fifth Season (book 1) (left), Wilbur and The Obelisk Gate (book 2) (top right), Clue and The Stone Sky (book 3) (bottom right) photos by Kate Ota 2021
I recently finished The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin which consists of The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, and the Stone Sky. They came out in 2015, ’16, and ’17 respectively. It’s an adult series that is either fantasy or science fantasy, depending on how you look at it.
The series takes place in a world called the Stillness. It’s debatable if this is a crazy far future earth or an alternative, similar planet. The main character is Essun, an orogene. Orogenes are kind of like Earth benders from Avatar: The Last Airbender, but with a few more specifics happening. Orogene work requires energy, so such a person could freeze those around them or steal that energy from, say, an earthquake. They are also highly disliked (ie murdered in public) by the rest of the world, but they come in handy when a Season comes. A Season is when there’s basically an apocalyptic level event such as powerful earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
The plot begins when Essun returns home from work one day to find her orogene son murdered by her (non-orogene) husband, and both her husband and orogrene daughter have disappeared. Then, a Season begins. Her goal is to find her daughter before her husband hurts the innocent girl, but that’s a hell of a task at the end of the world.
There’s so much to love about this series, and obviously many people agree. Each book in the series won the Hugo Award (one of the biggest awards in SFF) for Best Book—she’s the first author to ever do that three-peat (in row!) with a series. The Stone Sky also won the Locus and Nebula awards, and both of the first two books in the series were nominated for those awards as well.
Going into this series, my expectations were sky high. And you know what? I struggled to get into it. Chapter one was an info dump. One POV was second person (which I really hate). I wasn’t sure I was going to like this series that everyone gushed about. Lucky for me, I have a lengthy, boring commute so I kept reading. It took about halfway through The Fifth Season (book 1) for me to really get in the groove of the story. After that, I bought the second and third book and devoured the series.
I recommend this series to adults who grew up loving Avatar: The Last Airbender, fans of magic that’s on the harder side (ie it’s explained and has some logic vs soft, which is very mysterious), and readers who want a (badass) mother as the MC. It is also great for writers looking for an example of deep world building. It’s not for anyone who doesn’t like high fantasy or cannot handle info dumps ever. If you can press through the first chapter and have faith, you’ll be fine. It may also not be for anyone who may have painful memories triggered by violent child loss, child abuse, or gaslighting.
Have you read this series too? What other books/series by N.K. Jemisin do you recommend? Have you tried her Master Class? Let’s discuss in the comments!
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