Fantasy Review: ‘The Obelisk Gate’ by N.K. Jemisin

obelisk-gateLet’s look at some of the things I said about The Fifth Season.

“This one may have broke me.”

“Along with its ability to shred my emotions.”

“One of the most emotional reads I have had in a long time.”

I think there is a pattern here. The Fifth Season was a five star read that played on readers emotions. Looking back it is important that that is the case. Not a lot happened in reality, a couple characters traveled and met with each other and the groundwork for a world wide mystery was laid. But if a reader was looking for any sort of answers, or a fast paced plot, or all kinds of action they were not going to get it. Emotional gut punches and strong characters, yes. Answers? Oh no. Continue reading

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Fantasy Review: ‘The Fifth Season’ by N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1)This one may have broke me.

I can look back at a lot of so called dark fantasy and laugh in its face at this point because The Fifth Season is a whole different level. Jemisin had my heart in hand from the first chapter and while I never quite hit tears it can only be explained by my reading in a quiet shock and awe of where she was willing to take us readers. Broken families, casual acts of violence, persecution and exploitation of those with gifts (curses?) is woven into each chapter. This book was never easy to read but always worth the journey. Do I want more? Oh yes please. Just give me a light hearted comedy to cleanse the pallet first (I had a very similar reaction to The Road by Cormac McCarthey).

With three separate plotlines the story focuses on people with the magical abilities that allow them to work with stone and the minerals within them. Those smarter than I should be able to spot the central link that holds the threads together but there is no doubt it is very cleverly crafted in its presentation. Each is compelling on its own; I never turned the page and wished I could go back to that other character’s story.  

The world very well could be earth in the far future but doesn’t have to be. There are no hidden Easter eggs to search for, no game of guess the real life location because none of that matters. What does matter is that this is a land that isn’t just post-apocalyptic but is post-apocalyptic many times over; human life has been nearly extinguished more than once and is being challenged yet again within the course of the story. Earth appears to be forever broken, even if it can feign normalcy for a few centuries at a time there are too many factors that can set it all off again.

The Fifth Season is a book about survival, love and lust, duty and cohesion, persecution, and quite a few impressive magical acts. I pity anyone who tries to wrap the plot into a tight little synopsis because it doesn’t lend itself to an easy explanation. Along with its ability to shred my emotions I found one of its most impressive aspects to be how alien it makes the unknown aspects of this world feel. Creatures called stone eaters play a big part in this story line but their motivations are completely unknown to all; the reader gets no insight that the flummoxed characters don’t have. Giant floating obelisks dot the landscape with obvious purpose but no explanation. Even the land’s history is shattered; a combination of lost records and a dominate cultures’ manipulation leaves people in roles without other options. Until of course the land shatters again at which point the Stonelore they follow is nothing more than a guideline.

It is almost trite to talk about characters that seem real at this point; what should be the expectation in a good book is still noteworthy though. I love characters that I care about without knowing if I really like them. Who sometimes do the right thing. Who have obvious soft spots and bias and act upon them or occasionally against them with reluctance. And with a book that focuses on only a few characters these type of characterizations are only more important. Jemisin has given me characters to care about before and she does it here again.

The Fifth Season has been one of my most anticipated books for quite some time. It was delayed for quite a while but I am happy to say it has been well worth the wait. One of the most emotional reads I have had in a long time.

4 Stars

Fantasy Review: ‘The Broken Kingdoms’ by N.K. Jemisin

The Broken Kingdoms (The Inheritance Trilogy, #2)I start off with something of a tangent here but something started messing with my head as I was reading this book. The Inheritance Trilogy, or at least the first two books of it, have the strangest titles in relation to the books I can think of. These are books that in each case deal with a single person and their intimate relationships with the various gods and demigods in this land. Yet they have titles (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdoms) that suggest the most epic of epic fantasy; clash of nation type stuff. It left me wondering if it was a marketing trick to pull in a different segment of fantasy readership or if I am missing some really awesome allegories, allusions, and hidden references within the titles. Honestly, I have tried to think myself in circles and decided to give up.

I waited a while after reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms because after the reading the glorious Dreamblood duology first it just didn’t excite me as much.   I was a bit worried I would forget my place starting up The Broken Kingdoms but didn’t much want to do a reread. Two things were learned by me in this process. Book two takes place ten years after book one and needs very little residual memory, and that from the first pages I enjoyed The Broken Kingdoms better than its predecessor.

Oree is a blind artist who makes a modest living selling some of her stuff to tourist visiting the city of Shadow. It is only her lesser works that sell though, her real art she keeps hidden. There is a magic to it that even she can see; a magic that is best not discovered by those in power. At first I was a bit concerned by the convenience of the set up; to make a person blind but then allow her to see if magic was involved? But Jemisin is better than that; Oree does live her life, productive as it is, under the limitations that lack of sight give her. A walking stick is her constant companion, she has gotten lost in her own city, etc. She is a real person in a fantasy world, with no comic book superpower to take away the limitations her birth placed on her.

Oree also has a problem with Gods and Godlings; she seems to collect them around her. She romances a Godling named Madding for a time before he breaks her heart. She invites a silent Godling that seems to have been abandoned and lost into her life and even shares her home with him. This will of course become important later on as she slowly discovers who he really is. But in the immediate future she also has the bad fortune of finding what should be impossible; a dead Godling in an alley that is going to set the cities course for a while. Because only the Gods should have the power to do this and they want answers.

The path that all these events lead Oree on is interesting, even exciting, but certainly not a fun one. This isn’t a book to make one throw a fist in the air and yell ‘take that’ at vanquished foes. The mystery that has to be solved is deceptively simple. It isn’t one that foreshadows itself and leaves a reader feeling dumb for not figuring it out because all the facts are not knows to us. But it does feel wonderfully complete once brought to completion.

The highlight of the book is the interplay between the gods, mortals, and whatever it is that people like Oree are (not really a spoiler, that fact she sees magic automatically tips us off that she is different). Oree is but a flash in the lives of the immortals but oh so important to them in the now.

I stay in love with this little fantasy sub-genre of living gods that Jemisin seems to have led a surge of with this trilogy. What a good book, I think I shall read the next one (which is easy as I have all three collected in a handy omnibus).

4 Stars

Copy for review received from Orbit through NetGalley.