N.K. Jemisin’s series The Broken Earth won the Hugo Best Novel for ALL THREE NOVELS. And having just finished it – damn, I’m not surprised.
Jemisin throws you into the world and uses three voices to explore it so you see it from several viewpoints in the first book. In the second book she narrows into just a pair of views and for books two and three she generally sticks with Essun and Nassun; but takes a side-line to explore how everything got here in the first place.
Ok, so Jemisin is amazing at two things in this series: her world-building and her magic system.
Let me start with the world. The “complaint” I might have is she calls it “Earth” but I would find it much easier to have wrapped my mind around it if she had called it anything else. I kept trying to put her “Earth” onto the layout of planet & continents I know – and I will go ahead and “spoil” and tell you not to do this. Once I wrapped my brain around “oh, this isn’t MY Earth, they just CALL it Earth” I was able to accept the world much better.
So I like her magic and I struggle with it at the same time. She semi-makes 2 systems, but they are intertwined. Or one is a deeper level than the other. I’m not sure which. But I think she knows. It’s a fascinating system as it develops through the series.
Personally, I think if Jemisin has a true weakness in the series it’s her characters. The reader gets to know Essun exceptionally well, and glimpse other characters through Essun’s interpretation of their actions. Nassun is less well fleshed out (hell she’s like 10, this isn’t the worst) but considering how important she is – I just wish there was more in Nassun’s head.
Ok – so now I’m going to get into something that broke every rule of writing I’ve ever heard.
All three books are written in second person.
At first I was confused, by the end of the first book; I hardly noticed and by the end of the third book I was surprised when she wrapped it up with a pretty bow – and hit me with the sledgehammer of WHY. Brilliant. Without spoilers, I’ll just say that it’s worth getting used to the voice (it distracted me occasionally and kept me curious all the time). I kind of want to go listen to the first book again knowing what I know now.
Definitely, for a fantasy book I give this a 5/5 across the series. The second book might only be a 4/5 – there were a few times I wanted to yell at characters. But I was definitely glued throughout the series and it’s worth any annoyance when a particular character (usually Essun) is being an idiot.
The series won Hugo Best Novel every year – go read it.