When I first started this series, I thought this was going to be a Dune-style story of a future where the world is covered in sand, people are trying to live and not doing a good job at it, and the politics is a little funky. What I got was nothing close to that and I’m grateful for it.
NK Jemisin decided to write The Broken Earth trilogy after thinking about the future of our world. What would happen if we continue to move the way we have? Well, that answer is a terrifying one where the Earth takes out its revenge on its surface and all the living creatures on it.
We open the first book, The Fifth Season, with Essun finding her son’s been murdered by her husband. She also finds that her daughter has been taken by him and now she’s on a mission to find her. However, Essun isn’t her first name. As you continue to read the story, you find out more about Essun. It feels like the entire first book is dedicated to Essun’s story and it’s not a short one.
As a personal story, I absolutely loved the first book. It really gets into the world you’re about to dive into and shares the story of its main character. I thought this was genius; you learn about the world (albeit with a ton of questions) and you learn about the main character’s life. Essun’s real name is Damaya, which she abandoned when she was taken from her home and turned into an Orogene solider. Then her name was Syenite and she was a bad ass with her Orogenic powers.
While not a lot of questions about the powers is answered in this book, you get a sense that Essun is important. She’s not just important because she’s looking for her daughter, but she’s got incredible power. In this world, there are some gifted humans called Orogenes that can kill thousands of people with a blink of an eye and cause a cataclysmic fissure in the earth just by thinking it. In this world, they’re dangerous people because orogene is difficult to manage. If you’re not careful, an orogene kid with a temper tantrum can take out the whole town.
This is kind of the extent of what you get in the first novel. I was still a little upset that I had no clue how the Earth came to this reality and what an orogene was and how they got their powers.
The second novel, The Obelisk Gate, felt more like the world building that I was looking for, but at the same time a little stale. Honestly, it felt like the second novel was a lead up to the third novel. But the parts that were important to the story were really important to the story. For example, we get to hear more from Nassun (Essun’s daughter). She meets an old friend of her mother’s when her father finally settles on a community that promises to dispel orogenic powers from people. LOL, what a joke.
At this point in the book, I’m more intrigued by Nassun’s story than by Essun’s. Essun is just sitting in some underground community waiting to see her mentor and lover, finding out more about the stone eaters (another human form with extraordinary powers), and planning a battle with another community. Ok, she’s doing more than that, but it felt a little dry.
Nassun’s story and meeting Schaffa is so much more intriguing. You find out about Schaffa in the first novel and immediately you think he’s the bad guy. But then he kind of warms to you even though the entire time I was waiting for the knife behind his back to make an appearance. But despite Nassun’s story being interesting and more of the world being revealed, I wasn’t as thrilled to read The Obelisk Gate as I was for The Fifth Season.
The third novel, The Stone Sky, was the best out of all three. There’s a few different reasons for that. First, there’s the story of Essun finally finding Nassun (her daughter) and reuniting. While the circumstances aren’t in their favor and a whole lot of stuff goes down, they do find each other so that’s a fun treat. Then, you learn about Nassun and her abilities. Oh, she’s got abilities and it’s way more than what Essun has. Finally, you learn way more about Hoa and the other stone eaters. In this whole book, I thought it was humans vs. humans, but the real story is humans vs. the earth.
That’s right, Father Earth (in this book) is the actual villain in this series. Once you find out more about the origins of the stone eaters and orogenic people, then you realize that what’s happening is that the Earth is a little mad about what has happened to it. This is where NK Jemisin’s original question gets answered. What would happen to the Earth if we keep going the way we have? Self-destruction.
This was quite a series and will definitely keep you thinking more deeply about how we treat the Earth, how we treat each other, and the possible consequences if we keep going the way we do. When you think about all the efforts we make that seem small like recycling or not using plastic straws, think about an Earth that won’t hesitate and wipe out every living thing like an ongoing deadly plague except the locusts are bugs with boiling blood that burst and burn you.