The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisen

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For Christmas, for my father, I purchased the Broken Earth trilogy, by N.K. Jemison. It’s a fantasy, but with a fair bit of steampunky-sci-fi stuff in there too. Floating obelisks and post-apocalyptic societies and whatnot. The blend of settings works, though, and if you can make two disparate concepts mesh together, well, I’ll pay attention.

The title of the trilogy aptly describes the setting – a continent constantly broken apart by aggressively shifting earth beneath. People who can touch that rock manipulate it to further their own ends, and everyone else hates them for it.

I didn’t know much about the trilogy before I bought the books, wrapped them up and put them under the tree. Partly, I do things like this as an excuse to get books that I know my father, or others, will read that I can then borrow. And my father did exactly as I hoped. In the five days that we were there, he tore through the first two books, allowing me to snag them on the ride home. I’ll be back for the finale shortly.

Jemison does something neat with these books, something that always stands out to me when I see it, and then I haven’t yet tried myself. She uses present tense, and it makes you feel as though you are in the events as they occur. Rather a narrator looking back to the past and reciting what happened. Her writing has immediacy. A character talking about their movement as it occurs brings you into the scene, though it can sometimes feel little as though you’re reading stage direction.

And yet, skillfully done, as it is here, present tense possesses a verve that past tense can’t quite capture. You know when you read it. Since you’re moving around with the characters in live action. Makes it easy to get in the scene, to hear the thoughts as they happen. It doesn’t hurt that Jemison does a wonderful job of blending description and back story with the perspectives of the characters, including one written entirely in second person which is a feat in and of itself. Second person present tense? How often have you seen that one?

I’m not yetthrough the first book, though I’m making fast progress and hope to finish it soon. In the meantime, I’d encourage you to check it out. It’s a great, mysterious story thus far and, if nothing else, it will expose you to a form of writing seldom seen.