It is surprising how refreshing this feels. Being judged by what you do, and not what you are.
Back in 2017, I took the first two books of N. K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy (The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate) with me when we went to Hawaii. It was a perfect vacation read for me, engaging and substantial and enthralling. Totally unlike the other series I’d read by her, The Inheritance trilogy, but alike in the quality of writing and the way the writer is aware that even in speculative fiction there are all types of people. (This isn’t white, European-fable-based fantasy, in other words.) The setting—an earth-like planet, called The Stillness, that has undergone global transformation so that sometimes there are “seasons,” a span of years where the environment becomes inhospitable to human life in different ways—was completely unlike Hawaii (one of my requirements for a vacation read is that it is not set in the same or similar place as where I am going), but also a little bit connected via volcanoes and basalt.
The series tells the story of Essun, who is an orogene. Orogenes are people on this earth who can control various geological processes. They are highly despised and so, when a child is discovered to be one, they are either killed by their comm (the communities people live within) or, if they are lucky (or unfortunate, depending on perspective) they are taken to be trained at The Fulcrum, where they learn to control their powers. As the series starts, a massive earthquake has caused a continent-wide rift volcano to form, setting off a season that might be too long for humanity to survive. On the same day, Essun (who has hidden the fact of her orogeny from her family and community) discovers that her husband has murdered their son and abducted her daughter, Nassun, presumably because he discovered their powers of orogeny.
To me, this is the best kind of science fiction. It is based in science—geology, which is my favorite scientific branch anyway—but the way the story progresses makes you think about humanity and our society. It explores the mother/daughter relationship, gender, women's roles, race, racism, prejudice, community, education, friendship, all while telling a damn fine story. Am I gushing? Well, let me ooze a little more:
This is a series I am in awe of. What I mean by that is this:
When I read some books I find myself thinking this is the kind of book I might be able to write. Those books resonate because the author and I have some sort of the same way of thinking. Sometimes this even frustrates me: why can that person write this book but I can’t, or I haven’t yet?
Other books create the opposite reaction. They resonate because they are nothing that I would ever be able to even imagine, let alone put into words. They come from ways of thinking that are entirely different than mine, and I love that we can live in a world so full of so much brilliance and diversity of imagination.
The Broken Earth trilogy causes the second kind of reaction in me. I think so many things in it are brilliant and my writerly self just soaks it all in with awe. I couldn’t ever do what she does and I am just grateful I found her work so I can be exposed to such ways of thinking.
At any rate: I read the first two books in the trilogy in Hawaii. (I finished the second book on our drive home.) I had every intention of reading the third book, The Stone Sky, right when it came out, which was only a couple of months after our trip. I even bought it on pre-order so I could start it as soon as it was released.
But…I didn’t read it! I think it was because it was so closely connected to Hawaii for me, and I wanted to have that same feeling. Or maybe I was afraid that I loved the first two books so much, the last one might not measure up. The ending might disappoint me. I don’t know.
This spring, Kendell and I tried to plan a trip to Hawaii. I thought perfect! I’ll crack open The Stone Sky as soon as we get there! But since it’s been four years since I read the other two, I decided to listen to the audio books, so as to refresh my memory.
So throughout April and May, these books were part of my thoughts again. I listened while I exercised, quilted, cooked, and worked in the garden. Rereading them made me love them even more. I had forgotten quite a few details, and there were others that I somehow completely missed during my first read.
And now I am ready to read my print copy of The Stone Sky. We aren’t going to Hawaii—it was impossible to get a rental car, and everything was so expensive, we will save it for next year. But next week I am having another surgery, and that is the book I’m going to read first while I’m lying around recuperating (again). I can’t wait to see how the trilogy ends.