N.K. Jemisin, The Broken Earth
There aren't many novels that have received the Hugo Award and that I've really liked. But The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin grabbed me from the first pages and I couldn't leave it until I had reached the end...
The Earth (probably our Earth), after eons of earthquakes and tsunamis, seems to have now only a super continent. Humans live together in communities where each is assigned to a caste according to their aptitudes, and all hope they won't live during a Season, a period following a cataclysm where life is barely possible.
One day, "You", a second person narrator, feel a huge earthquake coming from the south, going through the whole continent. But "You" are orogene, a new and rare breed of humans with the strange ability to master geology. "You" protect your village so that your children are safe. Then "You" come back home where you find that your son has been beaten to death by your husband and your daughter has disappeared.
Another thread follows Damaya, a young girl whose parents have realised she is orogene. But orogenes are feared and hated by the human communities. Damaya is given to Schaffa, a Guardian, who will bring her to Yumenes, the imperial city, where she will receive an education in the Fulcrum with other young orogenes so that her powers are used for the empire.
A last thread follows Syenite, a young orogene woman who has been educated by the Fulcrum and who is sent on a mission in a coastal town, under the orders of another orogene, much more powerful than she is and that she doesn't like.
The second person narrative technique isn't new: you can find it in the French Nouveau Roman, in a novel by Italo Calvino, and in scifi, Charlie Stross uses it in his series Halting State. But Jemisin uses it with a remarkable effect. And if there's a "You", there has to be an "I"...
Any alert reader will soon say "Ha! But of course!" regarding the three threads, but Jemisin masters and mingles them in a significant way and throws in some surprises. At the end of one of the "Interludes", I was shouting in front of my e-reader: "Ha! I knew it!"
Actually, it's a novel that thinks its readers are intelligent people (which is pretty nice), that plays with them, but that also gives answers quite quickly while throwing in more questions.
The characters are empowering and striking, and so is the world in which they live.
Icing on the cake: the novel is extremely well written.
The Fifth Season really deserved its Hugo and the second volume, The Obelisk Gate, is just as good. The only problem? The last volume in the trilogy won't be published before August 2017. But apart from that, it's really a must read for people who like SFF.
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