Review: The Broken Earth

Series by N.K. Jemisin
Audio book: Decent

So sometimes I go to Goodreads to make fun of one star reviews for books I like. It’s kind of a vapid way to spend time, a way of feeling superior to people you disagree with without any of the actual risk of having to engage with them. You can skim what someone wrote and go “ugh, she just doesn’t get it,” and that can sometimes be fun.

The reviews for The Broken Earth Series were different, though. The primary complaint people seemed to have was that the books were too dark. “Too much child abuse to be acceptable.” “the book is just too darkly misanthropic.” “Why did she have to have so much senseless violence?”

Because the book is about systemic oppression. Because you can’t write a book about an entire people being hated and dehumanized without children being beaten to death. Jemisin isn’t deciding to perpetrate these atrocities; Jemisin is telling the story, in her way, of things that have actually happened. And finding reviews that are either asking that she not tell these stories, or that she somehow make them more palatable, infuriated me. (One review was a woman saying she was glad the books existed, she just simply didn’t have it in her to read them; that I can understand)

The Broken Earth series is a set of three fantasy novels, following a woman named Essun after discovering her son dead. It’s a good story, with plenty of interesting background, world building, and magic. The prose is good, but isn’t perfect. The plot makes sense, but feels a bit meandering. Some of her choices, like telling the story in second person, can be a bit hit or miss. But all of that is unimportant compared to how much substance there is to this book. Few fantasy novels have made me think about the real world as much as this one did.

I’d love to say “you absolutely have to read these books,” but some of the issues I had with the writing prevent that. If you’re a fantasy reader though, I think you should definitely check them out (especially if you sometimes think “I’d really like a book with a mostly female cast”).

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