I’M FINALLY ON THE N. K. JEMISIN BANDWAGON!
I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about this book ever since it came out. I bought the ebook one of the times it went on sale about a year and a half ago and it sat on my kindle until I couldn’t take it anymore. Last year I heard Daveed Diggs talking about it on a podcast and realized if I didn’t hurry up, I was going to have something spoiled for me. As it was, I was tired of not being part of the conversation that’s happening around this series. So I dropped everything I was reading in order to start this series.
It lives up to all the hype.
I’ve been debating with my family as to whether it’s sci-fi or fantasy. I suppose it’s a little bit of sci-fi, but mostly fantasy. It’s set on Earth in the far future – presumably after climate change has caused some sort of catastrophic event, sending society back into the stone age. There are regular earthquakes and the continents have recombined into one whole continent, with a few outlying islands.
On the fantasy side there are Stone Eaters, who apparently look just like us, but they literally eat stone, instead of food, they can move through stone more quickly and efficiently than through air, and they can blend in with humans, until someone notices their unnatural stillness.
There are also people called orogenes (or roggas, which is the more offensive term) that are kind of magical. They take power from the life around them (warmth in the air, people, animals, plants, the earth itself, etc.) to influence the shiftings of the earth. They can either cause massive earthquakes or protect a certain area from those earthquakes. Sounds pretty cool, right?
Not so much. If they take too much power from the surrounding area, they can kill anyone and anything who happens to be too close to them at the time. Because of their power, everyone else is terrified of orogenes and so they’ve basically enslaved them. If they’re not killed as children (in many cases, even their own parents won’t protect them because they’re so scared), they’re rounded up and taken to the Fulcrum, the capital where orogenes are trained, held, bred, and rented out to anyone who can pay for their services (the Fulcrum, not the orogene, negotiates the price and collects the fees).
Each orogene is assigned a Guardian whose job it is to make sure the orogene stays in line. They have the power to find their orogenes wherever they are, dampen their powers, and even kill them if they step too far out of line.
The story revolves around one woman as she comes to understand her place in society – which is to say, the place in which society is determined to keep her. The story bounces around between three different times in her life, and because of her tendency to change her name, it’s not immediately clear that the three characters we’re reading about are all the same person.
Damaya is a young girl who accidentally hurt a boy who attacked her at school. Her parents locked her in a barn and alerted the authorities, at which point her soon-to-be Guardian came and collected her and took her to the Fulcrum, where she was trained to use her powers. She didn’t get along with her classmates, so she became a loner, but one of the most accomplished and powerful loners. When she meets a new friend who gets her into big trouble (they don’t even understand how big, until the end of the book), Damaya is made to take the first ring test (the number of rings an orogene wears determines their status. Only a very few make it to ten rings).
Syenite is a four-ring orogene who has recently been assigned to go on a mission with Alabaster, a ten ringer, to a coastal town that’s having trouble with coral in their harbor. In addition to clearing up the coral, part of their mission includes having sex regularly to produce a child. Neither is thrilled about the prospect, but they both know what’s expected of them and they carry out their duty.
But Alabaster, it turns out, is a bit of a rebel at heart. Whereas Syenite goes about her duties without ever really questioning the state of the world or society, Alabaster questions everything. He knows the likely fates of their child, if they have one, and it’s not pretty. He knows their history better than Syenite, who has never looked beyond the fable that has been told to her since her Guardian first took her to the Fulcrum. Despite her initial distaste for Alabaster, he slowly becomes an influence on her and they end up becoming an effective team, if not exactly friends.
Essun has just come home to find her young son beaten to death, and that is how the book starts. She has no doubt her husband discovered their son’s abilities, killed him, and took off with their daughter, who’s a little older than her brother. Essun assumes her daughter is dead, but as she sets off to find them, she discovers her husband may have taken their daughter alive, but a simple mission to track down her son’s murderer turns into much more. Along the way she finds a young boy who ends up teaming up with her and turns out to be a stone eater, as well as a woman who appears to be a loner, but turns out to be a long lost friend from Essun’s past – and she has another mission for Essun…
I’m so mad at this book for ending on a cliffhanger because I have so many other things I want to read right now and all I want to do is head right into the sequel. What’s a reader to do?
What did you guys read this week? Anything that’s been on your TBR for a long time?