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.
With zero-indexed titles and a protagonist named Ada Liu (after Ada Lovelace) who’s a Coder, I was pretty excited for Zeroth Law - and Ada’s half of the novel was indeed as entertaining as expected. Sadly, I found her co-protagonist Isavel’s arc to be rather generic and boring, and decided not to continue with the series after book 1 because half the chapters made me want to stop reading.
The Sanctuary Duet takes place at the same time as the Lighthouse Duet but should be read after Lighthouse. However, if you avoided the other duology because you didn’t want to read something quite so dark, but you still want to read something set in Navronne, it is possible to read Sanctuary Duet on its own; you just might be a bit more confused about the worldbuilding than you otherwise would be, because some things are explained less directly than they might otherwise be, assuming the reader already understands what’s going on from having read Lighthouse.
The Lighthouse Duet takes an entire book for the main plot to start, but once it gets there, it’s absolutely incredible. The protagonist is Valen, a “cartographer” with a tormented past who ends up at an abbey in training to be a monk. Most of the first book is almost slice-of-life at this abbey, before the real adventure begins. Once it does, though, you’re in for an incredible epic that you won’t want to put down.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a book or series so filled with compassion for a protagonist as The Economy of Blessings. Charlotte Kersten’s Iraluri starts out in what’s clearly (to the reader, to any outside observer) an abusive marriage, but Iraluri doesn’t know it; not only does her husband keep her from realizing it, but also the oppressive classist and colonialist society that she lives in keeps her from realizing it. But Kersten is here to help Iraluri heal, and while the Economy of Blessings trilogy is one of the most emotionally raw series I’ve ever read, and full of painful scenes and has a bunch of content warnings, it’s also incredibly beautiful, and you can tell Iraluri’s journey is facilitated not just by her in-universe support system but also boundless love and care from the other side of the fourth wall.
Meadowsweet is, on the surface, a charming slice-of-life novel about a young boy who goes to live with a distracted sculptor in a magical mountain where the sculptures come to life. The boy lacks a father figure, the sculptor lacks a family (though he has a well-meaning-if-a-bit-scary brother-in-law who visits for about half the novel), and the two of them adopt each other over the course of some exploration, picnics, and a scary thunderstorm while preparing for the winter.
Daughter of the Empire begins with Mara, seventeen-year-old heir to the Acoma family, inheriting the title of “Ruling Lady” after her father and brother are tricked to their deaths by the rival Minwanabi house (boo, hiss, we hate them). Mara spends the rest of the book plotting both the survival of her own house and her revenge against the Minwanabi. From needra dung estimates to soldier recruitment to Mara’s own marriage for political gain, Daughter of the Empire considers problems of rule both small and big, and follows Mara’s triumphs and mistakes, but mostly triumphs.
What would happen if, in the not-to-distant-future, a benevolent AI who likes cat pictures were unleashed upon the Internet? And what would happen if it became the administrator of an online chat forum with a bunch of high school students looking for a community? Catfishing on CatNet tells the story of Steph, a lonely teenager who lives with her mom, the two of them constantly on the run from her dad and always moving from small midwestern town to small midwestern town. Steph’s one constant is her “Clowder,” an online community administrated by CheshireCat - who happens to be a benevolent AI who likes cat pictures.
A truly great concept (let’s bring a computer programmer into a fantasy world that currently has no governing principles) executed in an extremely mediocre fashion and with cringe-inducing levels of sexism. Roughly the first 50% of the novel is a boring journey through a forest which the two protagonists resentfully undertake after a plot device dumps them together and from which they’re saved by a deus ex machina. The next 10% is a boring story-within-a-story that introduces new characters that we don’t really care about in the slightest; and finally, the final 40% covers the plot we actually care about, but at this point there’s no time left to spend on the concept we actually wanted. Really, I was hoping for something that had more in common with a compilers textbook.
Okay this fantasy setting is just, the coolest. Any plot set in this world would be worth reading just because the world is so damn cool. And admittedly, the plot in the first novel isn’t the greatest, but it does subvert a bunch of expectations, and the plots of books 2 and 3 are much more interesting. And the world is SO COOL.