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 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.
Let me preface this review by saying that overall I did enjoy this trilogy. I found the plot to be engaging (especially in the second book), and the political tensions along with several of the antagonists (Gassandrid in particular) were very well-crafted. However, for each of its broad strengths, The Licanius Trilogy had a number of specific weaknesses, so the majority of my review is going to be critical.
A pretty dark story when all is said and done, but told by an engaging, hilarious narrator that it ranges from lighthearted to funny to bittersweet, and almost never feels as depressing as it should. We’re in a land that’s lost almost all of its male population and a lot of its female population to the Goblin Wars, and horses are all but extinct. Our narrator dodged the draft to join the Takers' Guild, and he’s teamed up with an honorable knight who of course fought in the wars. And now giants are attacking. Yeah, it’s a real pleasant place.