What does it say about a writer who has read only one nominated book out of all the nominees in the categories of science fiction, fantasy and horror on the Goodreads Choice Awards for 2016? I read all the time, yet this list seems to indicate I am seriously out of step with the reading public. How did I miss Joe Hill’s The Fireman, which won for best horror? I admit I hadn’t heard anything about the winner in the science fiction category–Morning Star, by Pierce Brown, and I have nothing to add to the conversation about the winner for best fantasy novel in 2016, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Maybe there’s just so much great material out there I can plausibly argue that I read the “other” good books and stories that didn’t make the Goodreads’ list. I’m going with that theory.
In addition to my reviews here, you can find two “other” good reads I recommend on The Speculative Herald, where I’ve started contributing. First is Feedback by Mira Grant, a part of the Newsflesh series, and second is Josh Malerman’s novella The House at the Bottom of a Lake. This one truly is one of my favorites of the year. Read the ending carefully. Oh, and about that book I did read among the Goodreads’ nominees: it was The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin, which is an outstanding second novel in a trilogy. My review here.
When I reviewed The Fifth Season, the first novel in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, I focused on what the violence in the novel was telling us and how the idea of violence shaped the story and the reader. The second novel in the series, The Obelisk Gate, is about love and hate, the fundamental motivations for all actions. So, if you’re up for a conversation about that, read on–just know that there will be spoilers.
Our hero from the first novel, Essun, is still in the underground community of Castrima where we left her at the end of the first novel. She’s a bit lost herself because she lost her daughter’s trail and doesn’t know how to find her, but she also has found a few people (and others) who care for her, and a place in a community that knows she is an orogene and tolerates her presence nonetheless. Her old love Alabaster has made it to Castrima as well. He is dying after having caused the rift that has brought on a season of destruction, but he tries in his impatient, imperfect way to teach her what she needs to know to finish what he started. No, the objective is not destruction of the world. The objective is an end to the seasons and re-establishing the planetary balance that will make it possible for humans (and others) to thrive again.
The novel also follows Nassun, Essun’s only daughter and surviving child, on her journey south with her homicidal father. Nassun is just leaving childhood, physically, mentally and emotionally, and Jemisin does an outstanding job of portraying the capacities and vulnerabilities of a girl that age. We see her navigate the unstable terrain that is her father’s mind–a man who could bludgeon her three-year-old brother to death because he discovered the boy was an orogene, yet tenuously hangs on to Nassun to take her somewhere he’s heard she can be cured. Why? Love. Twisted, damaged and smashed love. Nassun valiantly attempts to keep the image of her father in her heart and mind despite what she knows about him. Why? Love. The other parent, Essun–the one who pushed her as a child, hurt her so she would know how to protect herself, the one who is not there–becomes an object of hate, though the child does not clearly acknowledge this as her fear and desperation turns her in that direction. Continue reading
Spanish translation below the English is by Daniela Toulemonde.
There’s at least a half dozen reasons to encourage you to read The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, but this post is not a review because, well, I’m about a year late, and there are already great discussions about it here and here. Also, if you’ve read the novel, see Jemisin’s post on it here. This is just a meandering and exploratory post on one aspect of the novel that made me think. It’s the issue of violence.
Everything in this novel creaks and snaps with violence. On the geological front, the earth in The Fifth Season is always erupting, ripping, collapsing, swallowing itself. “Father” earth is not friendly but is interpreted as destructive, unreliable and even evil because the planet goes through repeated cataclysms, known as the fifth season, that crush civilization over and over again.
On a socio-political level, Jemisin’s portrayal of oppression of the orogenes is illustrated in the society at large through depictions of discrimination in the ruling institutions, the elites, and among the common people whose fraught existence in this ever-changing world does not predispose them to kindness toward anything unpredictable, and the orogenes are all that. The novel is full of people of various ethnicities but the orogenes are found across all groups, making this an interesting depiction of oppression that is not confined to the racial framing we generally see. The physical diversity of the oppressed does nothing to diffuse the violence directed against them. Continue reading