As the world is ending around her, Essun discovers that her husband has killed their son and kidnapped their daughter. Going out into a world of ash, she must track down the remnants of her family.
Spoiler Free Review:
Content Warnings: death of a child, child abuse, racism/slurs, violence, forced attempts at pregnancy, graphic sex
I don’t know exactly what I was expecting going into this book, but it was so different than anything I had in mind, in a good way! This has got to be one of the most unique, intriguing things I’ve ever read. I feel like on the surface, it doesn’t seem like it would be super different, but that just goes to show how well Jemisin did! I totally understand why she’s queen of the Hugo awards now.
I think a lot of people are turned off of this book because one of the POVs is told in second person. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel, but I ended up not minding at all! There are three POVs in this book and it isn’t clear immediately how they connect, so I felt a little lost for a bit, but I did eventually end up enjoying all of them, even if I didn’t understand until later how they connected.
The world is Earth-esque and has a lot of similarities to Earth (though I think I saw Jemisin say somewhere that it isn’t Earth, even in the future). This world has cataclysmic climate change events that happen every few centuries, so society has evolved around the inevitability of these events. Only some people in this world have magic, and those that do are both shunned and used for their powers. Their powers are connected the earth, allowing them to prevent earthquakes, among other things. There are also some other magical things that I’ll leave out due to possible spoilers.
I had an interesting relationship with the world and magic of this book. If I think too hard about it, I realize that I don’t quite have a firm grasp on how it all works, but while reading it, it made sense. I think this is partially my fault and partially because more will be revealed in the next books.
The diversity of characters in this book blew me away! There are characters of all sexual orientations and all races, trans characters, and even a polyamorous relationship. This is what I wish more diversity in fantasy looked like. No need to incorporate Earth-like prejudices and cultural norms in a book that is completely independent of Earth.
I have so many feelings about this book that it’s hard to put them all into words. There are definitely some very dark things explored in this book (mostly described in the content warnings above), so certain scenes definitely affected me quite a bit. Even though I was feeling that way, I never wanted to put this book down because I was just so interested in figuring out the world and what would possibly happen next.
The reason I gave this one 4 stars instead of 5 is because there were just a few things I didn’t understand. I think progressing in the series (which I will definitely be doing) will help, but I also think rereading this series will be great! I was so intimidated by this book initially, but I’m so glad I finally picked it up!