Ben Smithgall

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Bit pusher at Spotify. Previously Interactive News at the New York Times, U.S. Digital Service, and Code for America.





The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1)

By N.K. Jemisin

Finished reading on February 15, 2018

A masterful example of “show, don’t tell” pushes the plot of this book along faster and faster until a remarkable climactic moment when all of the individual storylines tie together.

The world is fascinatingly crafted and intricately imagined. The character(s) develop in fascinating ways, though the twist, such as it is, left me confused. The three main characters in the book turn out to be the same person at different points in her life. However, the three are so different that the immersion into the world breaks a bit.

The other thing that didn’t work for me so much is the use of second-person in one of the three main storylines. Ultimately, it ties back into the plot, but the technique is jarring and breaks apart the flow of the novel.

Overall though, the world is fascinating; to the main character everyone and everything threatens. The world itself is built around a lore advocating survival above all other things. Other people, the social structure, and the nature of the earth itself are temperamental and adversarial. False stability hides natural chaos. The explicit villains have motives beyond the maintenance of this false stability to control. These are never made explicit, creating a fascinating tension that runs through the book as a whole.