I know that it's a travesty that I find positive reviews much more difficult to write than negative reviews. I know that says something about me, that I'm able to find the bad much easier than the good. The way that I think about it is: if something isn't broken, I don't notice. If something IS broken, it's all I can think about. It's not exactly that, because certainly, the unbrokenness of (ironically) a series called The Broken Earth made me fall over myself in how astoundingly good it was. But often I'm robbed of the meticulous ways I pick apart bad aspects of books and I just end up blubbering incoherently because I can't cogitate how to describe HOW GOOD something was. But I have to say something more than that it was good. This series was more than just GOOD.
I. fucking. loved. this goddamn trilogy.
There are so many things I found unconventional about it. When I think of the Broken Earth series, I don't think of anything else. With [b:Ancillary Justice|17333324|Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1)|Ann Leckie|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1397215917s/17333324.jpg|24064628] the LeGuin is apparent; the Austen shines through in [b:Sorcerer to the Crown|23943137|Sorcerer to the Crown (Sorcerer Royal, #1)|Zen Cho|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1430239646s/23943137.jpg|43548024]; Valente's works often bring me heavily back to Lewis Carroll and so forth, but when I think of Broken Earth? I think of Broken Earth. It's a series I'll compare other books and authors to
, not the other way around. Sure, there are things in it that aren't not-familiar. As with all writers, or really anyone, Jemisin draws from other stories and ideas. But how
Jemisin grips these stories, wields these stories. It sets a standard in so many ways.
So this whole review will be me waxing lyrical about it - well, goddamnit. There hasn't been much this year, both generally and in my reading, that I've gotten to wax lyrical about, so if it's gonna be this phenomenal work of literature then so fucking be it.
Perhaps the best way to go through it is, in the same ways I catch onto negative things in other books, examine what the book gets right.
The writing is so good
. It's no overt poeticism, as it t'were. It's not what I think of when I think "written well." What comes to mind is typically purple prose similes and metaphors (being that I'm somewhat partial to them), but that isn't how Jemisin writes. What Jemisin has perfected in her prose is the fluidity of thought and a constant movement and continuation of words and sentences. Time just falls away when I read these books. It's not an unfamiliar sensation, but more often for me this happens when the prose is simple and the plot is the driving force, or sheer enjoyment of characters and having fun with a book makes me not pay attention to words as a focal point, but this was one of the cases where the propulsion of the text itself pulled me through, though the plot isn't anything to disregard. I know that this was incredibly difficult to pull off - how many times she must have gone through the words I don’t know, but the result is some of the smoothest reading I’ve ever done. Not that I wasn't having fun or enjoying myself, but it's not as if this series is a happy go lucky romp.
So I've heard some criticism of one of Jemisin's other books - I believe in the Inheritance Trilogy? I could be wrong, but it came up during a discussion of Mary Sue characters. Not that I want to get into that long drawn out conversation (which would definitely involve my loathing of Kvothe), but since reading that I thought about the Broken Earth. I'd say it sidesteps the issue entirely, especially as it comes to Essun, who is sour, rarely kind, but thoughtful and cautious when she makes herself, and also bitter, angry, and vengeful - in a lot of ways, Essun could be an entirely unsympathetic character. She’s so compelling to me, and in regards to "prodigy" and "genius" - being that it's typically very tied to Mary Sueness - I felt like she was someone who struggles through not being a perfect genius from the onset. Her tenring status is something she must grow into, something gained. Alistair does seem to have a talent for it, yes, but the progression of a mentor being someone who spearheads the path, and then must hand over their discovered knowledge to someone to finish the job? I thought it was unique, not a typical way to frame power and knowledge. Essun wouldn’t be Essun without Alistair, but Alistair couldn’t have concluded the book himself.
I suppose that you could argue that what Essun lacks in prodigy-ness, Nassun makes up. But Nassun is taught from an even younger age, and her handle on her orogenity combined with her immaturity and her growing turmoil is a cause for alarm and fear, and she’s never treated like a messiah. Frequently, when child prodigies are written, they're essentially birthed with the mentality of a 40 year old philosopher, but Nassun is treated, acknowledged, and, most importantly, is allowed
within the text to act like a child.
And speaking of Nassun, one of the strongest aspects to me about Broken Earth was the relationship between Essun (arguably just Essun as a good/bad mother figure in general - she is a mother so many times and yet fails/feels she fails them in such a variety of ways) and Nassun, which is wildly complicated, difficult, with clear parallels to real stories black people have with their families and how it relates to discrimination. Though Essun is not without fault (certainly not), the way she "protects" Nassun is endemic of a deeper fear instilled by their society, and the resultant fallout is minutely complex, speaking to how such cycles continue. Not even going into the horror show of the nodes and the fate of Corun and its very explicit parallel to Margaret Garner. But oh, Nassun and Essun. So unfair, so understandable, so heartbreaking. To know that Essun did what she felt she needed to - that Nassun would not have survived nearly as long as she did without what happened to her, but those childhood wounds went so deep, and I yearned for a long conversation that I knew I wouldn’t get between them.
God, and the big plot reveal in each of these books hit me hard every time. I know that the one in the first book was more or less predictable, but it was really impactful (not to mention that I had convinced myself that the three of them were so different from each other) and the ones in the following books, what that implied about this world and its societies and its people…. Just. So good! See, this is where I get lost. I can't talk too much at length about why
it's so good and spectacular because spoilers, but I also can't condense a billion little ways the plots spoke to me into a couple of words. All that comes out is "it was good." I don’t want to give too much away, but Jemisin really has artfully integrated so many things in this book about race, propaganda (more specifically, intentional misinformation that trickles from the top down), motherhood, family, there’s so much here. It’s a book that I know that if I reread again and again, there will be something I didn’t notice before. This book is like Shrek times infinity. It’s just phenomenal layering.
I will never forget this book. It isn’t a book I’ll think of as like “oh hey, that was good.” It’s a book I’ll think of as “my god, that book was just so amazing, maybe I should read it again”?
Jemisin owns my soul now, I guess? She earned it.