Go read the Broken Earth Trilogy!
There are many ways to measure how good a book was. A reasonable indicator for me has always been how quickly I finish it. A good book keeps you intrigued, engaged, absorbed; encourages you to keep reading, to discover what happens next, explore the world that has been set up in your mind. And wow does the Broken Earth Trilogy ever do that!
I got recommended the first volume, The Fifth Season, about *checks notes* wait. Only 5 months ago?? I could’ve sworn it was last year! Time flies… Anyhow. I took a brief break from the series because the first one, “The Fifth Season”, is kind of intense. But as I resumed with reading the second one, “The Obelisk Gate”, about a month ago, watching the events of the book slowly mould the characters, their morals, mentality, place in the world (both literally and metaphorically), it spurred me to buy the final book “The Stone Sky”. I just had to know how it would all come together. And I read that one in a week; barely put it down. So yeah, to say these books are absorbing would be an understatement… ^^
As with the first book, the world-building continues to be phenomenally done. With drip-feedings of lore, universe-specific vocabulary, a map at the start of the book with both visual references and fault lines (my inner geography nerd is so happy about that! ^^), interesting social and societal structures. It’s all elegantly expanded upon.
But before I (re)enthuse too much about just the worldbuilding (which I started doing almost immediately when writing this, and then had to edit things) let me reassure you that there is plenty of other stuff going on as well; there is a story in this incredible world. A story with so. many. cool. things! There is loss, love, hate, despair, hope, interpersonal struggles, dilemmas, science, history, archaeology, geology- Does the word “geoarcanity” intrigue you? Right?! And we’ve barely scratched the surface! : D
There are Stone Eaters, statue-like beings that move slowly, somehow talk, and can live in the Earth. There are Orogenes, humans which can move entire mountains by will (essentially earth-benders), which regular people fear but also rely on to save them from natural disasters. There are Guardians, mysterious humans which seem to be able to nullify the Orogenes’ abilities. There are remains of ancient civilisations, which very few people care to understand because if they didn’t make it this far, they can’t have been very good at survival, can they?
There is deeper lore to the deep lore, interspersed with other bits of the story so as to not feel like a lore-dump (and also being revealed in increasing detail across each of the books, making the progression fit with your own developing understanding of the universe). There are flora and fauna reminiscent of things found in The Edge Chronicles; not inherently evil, but sure as hell not all friendly. There are nations, architectural projects, power struggles, different species, explorations of how to deal with the world ending both personally and on a community-scale.
And somehow N. K. Jemisin manages to write so much wonderful nuance into all of these, without it at any point feeling overwhelming. The story, its universe, and its lore, flow seamlessly along each other, complementing and intertwining as necessary. I’m not entirely sure how she’s managed all this, but it is very well done…
The books also include something I will always appreciate and respect in a story, because it is very hard to do right, but really enriches the story: no actions are unilaterally good, almost everything has consequences. Sometimes, sacrifices must be made, and sometimes people snap or cannot be reasoned with, or are simply at an impasse with regards to each other’s points of view. It is part of what makes the books incredibly heavy at times (not to mention the vividly realistic renderings of mental states), but also what makes them so captivating to read; you read along, share, and experience all the good things that happen but also all the negative. Nothing is held back from the reader, and the characters and world feel all the more alive thanks to it.
It is extremely difficult to discuss the many elements in the series without spoiling things, I really hope I haven’t given too much away with the above. Exploring the world of the Broken Earth Trilogy, while simultaneously being told the main story, is an epic experience which I can only highly recommend. Go read the Broken Earth Trilogy!