Here we are, the finale of this absolutely stunning, award-winning, post-apocalyptic trilogy. I started it over a year ago now, with The Fifth Season. And then read the second book, The Obelisk Gate just a month or two ago. This story is so wonderfully profound and evocative, it’s one that I wanted to speed through to see how it all unfolded, but I held back. I just knew that, to fully appreciate it, I needed to give it time…to read it slowly so that I could fully absorb everything. And that was totally the right way to read this series, at least for me. And now that it’s over, I’m both super satisfied and also wishing the series was twice as long.
“Don’t be patient. Don’t ever be. This is the way a new world begins.”
In this final installment of The Broken Earth trilogy, Essun is coming to terms with her new existence, as part of a homeless comm (after her actions to save the lives of Castrima’s people at the end of book two) and as the heir to Alabaster’s great power and, thus, his mission to save the world by rescuing the moon. At the other end of the world, we have Nassun, Essun’s daughter, who is struggling in her own right to come to terms with what she did to her father and how to move forward and live in a world that has shown her only cruelty. Both mother and daughter have the power to control the Obelisk Gate, but with one whose goal is to bring back the moon and save the world, while the other’s goal is to destroy humanity and bring the world back to “equal” with a fresh start, the Earth’s fate rests in the balance between the hands of these two women.
Well, yet again Jemisin’s perfectly deliberate and measured pacing takes center stage in her story-telling. It’s just so impressive that, though the fate of the entirety of humanity, of stone-eaters and of the Earth, are all balanced on the knife’s edge between Essun and Nassun, she is able to keep the development of events both personal in scope and cosmically large in effect. The tension is palpable on every page, and yet I never felt rushed towards the end, as I have with so many finales. The transition of this novel to focus in on mother and daughter, the way that their past and current relationships, with each other and otherwise, are what will decide the ending, is masterfully handled. The transition from macro to micro, and how the micro can affect the macro, could have been too jarring, but Jemisin executes is so smoothly. It’s such an intense pressure to put on just two characters, to put on a single relationship, not just as far as how the they individually handle things (especially since Nassun is only about 11 years old), but also to shift the entire story in a way that never makes the gravity of the situation feel minimized by it coming down to, in this last piece, the actions/decisions of just two women. In fact, it’s a beautiful testament to the power of love, the power of showing (and acting on) your true feelings, and the power of how just one person’s actions can, truly, make a difference on a scale large enough to affect the whole world. Finally, and let me try to do this without spoilers, I love the way this ended. The way Jemisin was able to provide a path to legitimate redemption for both Essun and Nassun, and for the Earth as well, was just…gut-wrenchingly right. Like I said, I could not be more satisfied with the ending. I just…I just want more because this world is so real for me now and I’m not ready to say goodbye. As a side-note to the ending, we also find out whose “voice” is telling this story, and why, which helped clarify for me the POVs used (as there were many, and ones like second person that aren’t often used, and sometimes it got confusing). I found that particularly helpful as I looked back on the story as a whole and saw everything shift into place. It was a gratifying feeling.
In addition to the story-telling greatness, I have found that each book has had one greater message/theme that stood out to me. I mean, there are many all throughout, as Jemisin is a master of combining the magical with our own reality in a way that provides insight into the dark sides of humanity in a uniquely horrible way (though, not to alarm any potential readers, she does this for the good parts of life too). But there’s always one particular piece that stands out. For me, in this final installment, I really picked up on the focus she put on how those who are “necessary” for building and protecting society are not revered, as they should be, but used and mistreated. In these books, it’s the orogenes, and their ancestors the Niess and those who became what we now know as stone eaters (i.e. Hoa). And as Jemisin dives into the history of these people, the way their usefulness was abused, the corruptive affect of power/magic, and the way the Seasons began when the Moon was first stolen from the Earth (side note here: I loved learning all this background!), it’s impossible not to see the messages about the way people have taken advantage of each other to get ahead. There are the ways conquerors exert control over their conquests, and the ways the powerful use those with less power, and a call-out of all the ways unsung peoples have built and protected grand worlds that they’ve never been allowed access to all across actual history. The lessons are clear, profound and important. I especially love the theme of the “notes” at the end of each chapter; there as they have been in all previous books – yet with a new/single-minded focus: to point out the myriad examples of how orgenes (and the wronged peoples of the real word that they represent) are not the danger to society that they’ve been misjudged/mislabeled as. And yet…and yet…when given the chance to save or destroy it all, what do these oppressed and ill-treated peoples do (eventually)? Despite everything, Jemisin’s writing exemplifies, as I’ve mentioned, the power of love, and the hope it fuels for a better future. This trilogy ends with such a magnificently engineered chance at a new beginning, a chance to reset with decency and equality. And that, too, is a message of hope to all readers.
Ugh, it’s impossible to write short reviews for these books. There’s just so much to them and I want to mention all the things I love and dissect everything I just experienced and convince everyone else of Jemisin’s genius so you go read them yourself! So yea, if you stuck through this review all the way until the end, my bottom line is: go read this trilogy – it’s mind-blowing!
As with all of these novels, so many lines were amazing – enjoy this selection:
“No need for guards when you can convince people to collaborate in their own imprisonment.”
“When a comm builds atop a fault line, do you blame its walls when they inevitably crush the people inside? No; you blame whoever was stupid enough to think they could defy the law of nature forever. Well, some worlds are built on a fault line of pain, held up by nightmares. Don’t lament when those worlds fall. Rage that they were built doomed in the first place.”
“…you speak as though it’s an easy thing to ask people to overcome their fears, little one.”
“…because you are essential, you cannot be permitted to have a choice.…”
“You must understand that fear is at the root of such things. […] but every group is different from others. Differences alone are never enough to cause problems. […] But there are none so frightened, or so strange in their fear, as conquerors. They conjure phantoms endlessly, terrified that their victims will someday do back what was done to them – even if, in truth, their victims couldn’t care less about such pettiness and have moved on. Conquerors live in dread of the day when they are shown to be, not superior, but simply lucky.”
“This […] made them not the same kind of human as everyone else. Eventually: not as human as everyone else. Finally: not human at all.”
“How can we prepare for the future if we won’t acknowledge the past?”
“…that does not mean…that something is impossible just because it is very, very hard.”
“But that’s no different than what mothers have had to do since the dawn of time: sacrifice the present, in hopes of a better future.”
“‘I think […] that if you love someone, you don’t get to choose how they love you back.’”
“But sometimes, when the world is hard, love must be harder still.”
“‘Because that is how one survives eternity […] or even a few years. Friends. Family. Moving with them. Moving forward.”