Book Review Date: February 11th, 2019
This is the way the world ends…for the last time.
A season of endings has begun.
It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun.
It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.
It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.
This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.
This book—this story—, and I still surprise myself when I say this, is honestly unlike anything I’ve read in this genre before. (All the Hugo Awards they received should be a clue that I’m not alone in thinking this). I read a LOT of fantasy. But here I am. Saying this. And here’s why:
- The main POV is in second person.
- The world is itself a mystery to uncover.
- The language choices (within the beautiful writing).
- You can feel the authenticity radiating off the page.
Okay. Point one. Yes, that’s right, this is a very successful use of second person POV (point of view). As is the case with any story that speaks directly to the reader or a character using “you”, it is at first slightly jarring. But within minutes (and for my slow pace that’s like a page) “you” was simply a character, and I thought no more of it. It was synonymous with the main character’s name. It was that easy to slip into. In fact, I even grew to prefer this particular POV style to the other, more common third person ones.
Point two: the world building here starts with a narrow focus and slowly eases its way out. Throughout the entire story, it’s almost as if a camera is slowly zooming out to reveal more and more depth and layers to the world. It’s such a smooth transition when I think back on it that I’m actually envious of her skill. As much as I followed along with the characters, I was also following along with the world building, being artfully fed new information as it went along. It was pretty incredibly done, if I’m being honest.
Point three. I want to touch on the fact that the writing itself has such a cadence to it that I could listen to it being read for hours and hours and be entirely wrapped up in it like a song I put on repeat so it won’t end. Part of that, and the part that made it stand out from many other fantasy novels, is that the word choices for the “made up stuff” felt so natural that I wouldn’t be surprised if they had always existed. I was not, even once, tripped up by the language choices. I didn’t stop to giggle to my husband about the absurdity of this or that word choice. It was just natural. And that’s no easy feat.
And finally, point four. What I mean by feeling the authenticity is this: had I not known that N. K. Jemisin was a woman of color when I started, I would have soon figured it out. You can’t write the oppressed experience the way this book was written if you haven’t lived it. I could never have written the characters the way she did, because I have the privilege of being white. And while the oppression in these books is on those who possess these dangerous magic-like abilities, rather than a skin color, there’s just an unrelenting echo of truth in their experiences. I found myself sitting back and thinking about this aspect many times through my reading of these books and just knowing without a shadow of a doubt that they were better for having been written by a woman of color.
All that said, the characters were so real and richly layered, the plot had a fantastic overall arc that had me guessing at every turn, and the world and it’s words will stay with me for years to come. I hadn’t even finished the third book before I jacked this series up into my top favorites of all time.
Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we?
- But there are none so frightened, or so strange in their fear, as conquerors. They conjure phantoms endlessly, terrified that their victims will someday do back what was done to them—even if, in truth, their victims couldn’t care less about such pettiness and have moved on. Conquerors live in dread of the day when they are shown to be, not superior, but simply lucky.
- They’re afraid because we exist, she says. There’s nothing we did to provoke their fear, other than exist. There’s nothing we can do to earn their approval, except stop existing – so we can either die like they want, or laugh at their cowardice and go on with our lives.
- For all those that have to fight for the respect that everyone else is given without question.
- After all, a person is herself, and others. Relationships chisel the final shape of one’s being. I am me, and you.
- When we say that “the world has ended,” remember – it is usually a lie. The planet is just fine.
- It’s not hate that you’re seeing. Hate requires emotion. What this woman has simply done is realize that you are a rogga, and decide that you aren’t a person, just like that.
- When the reasoning mind is forced to confront the impossible again and again, it has no choice but to adapt.
- You must remember, though, that most normal people have never seen an orogene, let alone had to do business with one, and—” She spreads her hands. “Isn’t it understandable that we might be… uncomfortable?” “Discomfort is understandable. It’s the rudeness that isn’t.” Rust this. This woman doesn’t deserve the effort of her explanation. Syen decides to save that for someone who matters. “And that’s a really shitty apology. ‘I’m sorry you’re so abnormal that I can’t manage to treat you like a human being.
- There passes a time of happiness in your life, which I will not describe to you. It is unimportant. Perhaps you think it wrong that I dwell so much on the horrors, the pain, but pain is what shapes us, after all. We are creatures born of heat and pressure and grinding, ceaseless movement. To be still is to be… not alive.
- The look on her face is one of horror, or perhaps sorrow so great that it might as well be horror. Past a certain point, it’s all the same thing.