The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin Review

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Genre: Adult Fantasy

Publisher: Orbit

Release Date: 4th August 2015

Pages: 512

Author Website: N.K. Jemisin’s Website

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This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

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N.K. Jemisin is one of the greatest writers in the game today and I’ll defend that to anyone I need to. Through each of the three books, The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, and The Stone Sky, there isn’t a single moment of lag, or when my attention wandered. It really did get its teeth in me at the beginning of The Fifth Season, and by the end of The Stone Sky, it was me that was hanging onto it. 

There are elements of the story that are very complex and at times, unfamiliar. I really loved geological modules in geography class, so the movements of the earth in the story were easy to grasp (and exciting because I actually knew what was going on – thanks Mr. Cooke!). The physics and magic system at times were a little harder to work out, though no less rewarding when you wrap your head around it. Despite this, I really found the books easy to read. You just have to hold on and trust in Jemisin’s incredible storytelling talents. She won’t let you down.

The world N.K. Jemisin has created is one of the most vivid and unique I’ve ever read. If I had a fraction of her talents, I’d be over the moon (pun intended). Jealousy aside (good-natured, I’d promise!), the world building in each of the books is impeccable, and just continues to elevate through each book. Your imagination and comfort as a reader is constantly being pushed. Just at the moment you think you’re comfortable and you have a firm enough grasp of the world to let your brain relax, you’re goaded to stretch just that little bit further, and I think that is one of my favourite things about this trilogy. It isn’t a story that is going to let itself be read lightly.

The structure and plot of the books are also phenomenal. I read The Fifth Season last year but couldn’t get my hands on the second and third for a while. I bought the rest of the trilogy just recently and decided that I needed to re-read The Fifth Season before moving onto the second and third. Honestly, that was such a good decision. Reading it the second time around was a treat because you can see just how cleverly and subtly the structure and plot work together to build up to the reveals throughout the first book. I know when I re-read the whole trilogy in the future, I’ll see the same deftness in the second and third books, too.

Another unique element of the story is the writing style, which is down to the choice of narrator. Saying any more on this subject is a huge spoiler so I’ll hold myself back, but especially in The Stone Sky, the voice throughout the book is even more established and impressive. It makes the whole story that much more intimate. Like I said earlier, it lures you in and latches onto you, but by the end, you somehow find that it has let go of you, and you’re the one white-knuckling to hold on. I think the writing style contributed most to this feeling, for me.

If you know me, you’ll know that I’m a big character-oriented reader. If I don’t connect with the characters then it’s unlikely that I’ll like the story. So you already know that I adored the characters in this story. There are so many I could write about but for now – and for the sake of spoilers – I’ll focus on Essun.

Essun is one of the protagonists that you can’t help but root for. You see her constantly beaten down and dragging herself up from her knees. Her life has been full of the most traumatic things you can imagine and yet she carries on with the weight of that trauma heavy on her back, willed forward by love for her daughter and the drive to survive. Everything about her, her mistakes, her decisions, her reactions, were all so justified that you couldn’t possibly feel angry at her, and couldn’t possibly not feel that lurch in your chest when she was hurt. It takes a very compelling character to carry me through three books in succession. I think I would follow Essun through ten more.

The character development for all of the major characters was so satisfying and at times, heartbreaking. The minor characters were also given that little dazzle that makes even their single brushstroke in the story pop.

I could go on gushing about this trilogy for another 1000 words but I’m going to hold myself back because I’m going to lose the little coherence I have when it comes to this story. Let’s head to the snapshot.

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If You Like:

  • Multiple perspectives
  • Motherhood as a theme
  • Dystopian fantasy
  • Geological world-building
  • Found family
  • A complex world you can get your teeth into
  • Character development to last you until you die

Then this trilogy is for you! Start with The Fifth Season and get going!

If You Don’t Like:

  • Violence
  • Having to perhaps think more than you do with the average book
  • Second-person perspective (though this is only for one of the POVS)
  • TW: death of a child, violence, injury, child abuse, captivity, discrimination.

Then maybe give it a little more thought before picking this trilogy up.

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Have you read The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, or The Stone Sky? Let me know and we can chat! Or cry!

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6 thoughts on “The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin Review

  1. Love this review! High fantasy is very intimidating for me but I’ve just heard so many great things about this series and author in general and I really want to give it a try. I LOVE dystopian and am so looking forward to experiencing her writing and world ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is one of my all time favourite trilogies ever and I agree with absolutey everything you have said. The sheer originality of this series blows me away, as does Jemisin’s ability to write such creative, thought-provoking stories that push the boundaries of what fantasy can do. I loved the “You just have to hold on and trust in Jemisin’s incredible storytelling talents. She won’t let you down.” I agree with this so much, having read a few more of her works sometimes you are lost but she never ever lets you down. Amazing review!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I CAN’T WAIT TO READ THIS SERIES AHHH. i fell in love with jemisin’s writing when i read the inheritance trilogy. im planning to read this trilogy really soon. im looking forward to more fantasy excellence from nk jemisin ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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