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This is a Hugo finalist in the Best Novel category, published by Orbit.

The story is about a land called the Stillness which is seismically active. The stills are ordinary people; orogenes are talents able to control the seismic activity; guardians can shut down the orogenes power, and stone eaters have the power to move through earth and stone like it’s air. The land is governed by an ineffectual leadership and consists of cities and communities that are struggling for survival. The Fifth Season is death, caused by cataclysmic seismic events. Orogenes are hated and feared, and the guardians try to capture the children and enslave them to work for an institution called the Fulcrum. Besides this, there are mysterious obelisks that float above the Earth’s surface, either alien artifacts or the product of ancient civilizations. There are four different time streams in the plot that converge. A woman sits by a dead child; a man breaks the land; an orogene child is taken and tortured by a guardian; two orogenes are commissioned to clear a harbor of coral, and as the effort dramatically fails, they escape and take refuge with pirates. As the broken land begins to die, a stream of refugees heads south, away from the epicenter of the event.

This is the first work I’ve read from Jemisin, and I was impressed with her imagination. The setup is brilliant, the imagery, the setting, the talents and the air of mystery about the forgotten artifacts are first rate. I’m not surprised that she’s nominated for a lot of awards. However, she doesn’t win that much. There are issues here, so I’ll pick at this a little more than I normally do.

The first issue is readability. There’s not much that really happens in the story, but it moves at a glacial pace, ending up at about 450 pages. I was 25 pages in before I had an idea of what might be going on, and 100 pages in before I connected in any way with the characters. It’s written in a sort of folksy, storytelling style. This softens the horrors going on, but that, the shift between time streams and a shift between second and third person for the narration tends to make it over-complex and inserts too much of the author. Second issue: this is described as The Broken Earth, Book 1, so I expect it will continue. That’s good, because it doesn’t really wrap anything up. It just stops. The last (and worst) issue is that I don’t really like any of these characters. They hate each other and live miserable lives. Nobody gets to be a hero—they just struggle and die, or else they survive.

Three and a half stars.

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