"The Broken Earth" review
Title: The Broken Earth series review
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Subgenre: Science fiction, Post-apocalyptic, High fantasy
2022 Bingo squares:
- The Fifth Season: Weird Ecology (HM), Initials, BIPOC Author, Family matters
- The Obelisk Gate: Weird Ecology (HM), Initials, BIPOC Author, Family matters
- The Stone Sky: Weird Ecology (HM), Initials, BIPOC Author, Family matters
Recommended if: you want a trilogy with fantastic worldbuilding
Not recommended if: you’re uncomfortable with plots involving forced breeding, or you dislike second-person narration, or you dislike very dark fantasy
LGBTQ rep: It’s a queer-normative society, and one major character is a trans woman
N.K. Jemisin is known for being a master of worldbuilding, and her reputation is absolutely, definitely, no question deserved. The worldbuilding in The Broken Earth is incredible. But…I kind of hated everything else about the trilogy. The second-person narration was unbelievably annoying, the plot was uninteresting, and I don’t particularly like reading plots that involve coerced breeding, even if they make a lot of sense in a very well-explained world that does have excellent worldbuilding.
The first novel starts out pretty melodramatically, and indeed the entire trilogy is extremely dark - perhaps even gratuitously so in places - but the melodrama of the opening words is really not warranted. It left a sour taste in my mouth, like the narrator couldn’t be trusted. But not in a good, unreliable narrator way. Rather in a “what is the author doing, this is silly melodrama” sort of way.
After that, the first novel is a rather typical high fantasy post-apocalyptic novel with really excellent worldbuilding, and a really, really, really annoying second-person narrative. I could have forgiven the final point if it had dropped the second-person narrative for books 2 and 3, but…it doesn’t. It just keeps it up, and the second-person voice is unending, and it never gets better, it just keeps going, and Jemisin, for all that she writes really amazing worldbuilding, just does not write the second person well.
So, I did not like the second person voice.
Some people say they do, so maybe you will, but I didn’t.
As for things other than the narrative voice and worldbuilding - the plot is okay. The scope of book 2 is pretty narrow, not that much happens, but I was too busy being angry at the narrative voice to really care about that. Book 1 is definitely the strongest. I thought the ending was very weak. Character relationships aren’t the best. Mostly you’re here to appreciate the setting and how real the world feels, and everything else is secondary to that. The struggles of leadership of a community are portrayed very well, even where the plot falters.
I think this one is worth reading, even though it kind of sucks in a lot of ways, because what it’s good at, it’s really good at. But, goddamn, I hated that second-person voice.