This is the last novel I had to read before I could vote in this year’s Hugos. I probably wouldn’t have read it for a couple of years otherwise because the older I get and the more fantasy books I’ve got crammed all up in my head, the harder it is for me to remember details I need in order to enjoy ongoing series. In most cases, it’s easier just to wait for the series to be finished and read the whole thing in one go. I say most, because there are some books that are just so intense there’s no way you’re forgetting them. This is totally one of those, and I’m actually really glad I read it now instead of waiting.
Well, I’m glad now. I had a hard time with this sucker for a little bit.
Apocalyptic-type books are a hard sell for me. They really freak me out. And on top of that, the world Jemisin created was a tough one to stomach even before it begins to end. The book starts with the murder of the main character’s three year old son, and gets worse from there. The Stillness is a single continent world plagued by tectonic activity so severe, humanity has learned to prepare itself for disaster on a regular basis. Supervolcano explosions, earthquakes and the like are responsible for intermittent “fifth seasons”, essentially long winters that if not prepared for correctly, could mean death for whole cities and communities. On top of that, there’s a whole group of people called orogenes who can manipulate the earth and its energy, but they are so feared and reviled, they’re not even considered humans, and it’s the fate of the luckiest ones to be essentially enslaved as weapons in service of a powerful empire.
And then something sets off what is set to be the mother of all fifth seasons, a winter so long it seems impossible that humanity could survive.
Oh yeah, not an Ashley book. At first I could only read it in the daytime. And it took me like five days to get a third of the way in. Jemisin is such a good writer, I always enjoyed it while reading, but the experience just bogged me down after a while and I would have to put it down to recharge my happiness batteries. And then . . . something turned. All of a sudden, I couldn’t put the fool thing down. I read basically the last half of the book in a marathon reading session this afternoon because I needed to know what was going to happen.
So all of this is to say, if you have a hard time getting into this for whatever reason (the style might be an issue . . . large parts of it are in second person, but if you get to the end, you see there’s a reason for that). It’s an absurdly well put together book, everything comes together so elegantly, and the world is so ridiculously imaginative. I mean, Jemisin’s brain must be a scary palace of wonders. Every time I read a book by her, it’s like nothing I’ve ever read before. And that’s before you realize that while she’s also written a compelling story, it’s also crazy smart and layered. People will be unpacking this thing for years, and its absolutely deserving of its Hugo nomination (and any other nomination people see fit to give it).
In short, hell yes, read this book.
[4.5 stars for now, may up it to five in the future]