Stunning, again.

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THE OBELISK GATE

From the The Broken Earth series , Vol. 2

In the second of a trilogy (The Fifth Season, 2015) by the science-fiction columnist for the New York Times Book Review, the latest in a series of apocalypses marches on.

The powerful orogene Alabaster has used his powers to tear a blazing rift across the continent, and humanity faces extinction. Finding refuge in the underground comm of Castrima, the now-dying Alabaster struggles to impart vital information and skills to his former student and lover, Essun, which could potentially cease the flow of the tectonically devastating Seasons. All the while, Castrima faces tension from within—those who fear Essun’s rapidly growing magical powers—and without, as an invading army prepares to take the comm’s dwindling supplies for its own. Although Essun’s greatest desire is to recover Nassun, the daughter she loves, the girl always wanted to escape her mother, whom she perceives as cold and who imposed harsh training to discipline and hide her daughter’s orogeny. Nassun willingly left with her adored father even though he murdered her brother and violently loathes all orogenes. This uneasy father/daughter pair travels to a mysterious, distant community rumored to “cure” orogeny, where Nassun discovers a key figure from her mother’s past—but he’s no longer quite what he used to be. The worldbuilding deepens in this installment, with fresh revelations about the distant past and the true and alarming nature of the enigmatic stone eaters. But as in the previous volume, it’s the people who take front and center. Jemisin’s depictions of mob behavior are frighteningly realistic. And she offers a perceptive and painful portrayal of two different kinds of abusive relationships between parent and child. She also generates huge amounts of nuanced sympathy for some (but not all) of the characters driven to do truly dreadful things, often accidentally, to save themselves and the ones they love.

Stunning, again.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-316-22926-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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With every new work, Jemisin’s ability to build worlds and break hearts only grows.

THE FIFTH SEASON

From the The Broken Earth series , Vol. 1

In the first volume of a trilogy, a fresh cataclysm besets a physically unstable world whose ruling society oppresses its most magically powerful inhabitants.

The continent ironically known as the Stillness is riddled with fault lines and volcanoes and periodically suffers from Seasons, civilization-destroying tectonic catastrophes. It’s also occupied by a small population of orogenes, people with the ability to sense and manipulate thermal and kinetic energy. They can quiet earthquakes and quench volcanoes…but also touch them off. While they’re necessary, they’re also feared and frequently lynched. The “lucky” ones are recruited by the Fulcrum, where the brutal training hones their powers in the service of the Empire. The tragic trap of the orogene's life is told through three linked narratives (the link is obvious fairly quickly): Damaya, a fierce, ambitious girl new to the Fulcrum; Syenite, an angry young woman ordered to breed with her bitter and frighteningly powerful mentor and who stumbles across secrets her masters never intended her to know; and Essun, searching for the husband who murdered her young son and ran away with her daughter mere hours before a Season tore a fiery rift across the Stillness. Jemisin (The Shadowed Sun, 2012, etc.) is utterly unflinching; she tackles racial and social politics which have obvious echoes in our own world while chronicling the painfully intimate struggle between the desire to survive at all costs and the need to maintain one’s personal integrity. Beneath the story’s fantastic trappings are incredibly real people who undergo intense, sadly believable pain.

With every new work, Jemisin’s ability to build worlds and break hearts only grows.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-22929-6

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2016

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