THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS. AGAIN.
Three terrible things happen in a single day.
Essun, masquerading as an ordinary schoolteacher in a quiet small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Mighty Sanze, the empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years, collapses as its greatest city is destroyed by a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heartland of the world’s sole continent, a great red rift has been been torn which spews ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.
But this is the Stillness, a land long familiar with struggle, and where orogenes — those who wield the power of the earth as a weapon — are feared far more than the long cold night. Essun has remembered herself, and she will have her daughter back.
She does not care if the world falls apart around her. Essun will break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.
I’ve never read a book quite like this one, which is saying something, because I have read A LOT of books. While most of the story was told from Essun’s perspective, she told it in a unique way. Rather than saying, for example, “When I found my son dead, I knew I had to take revenge” the text would read, “When you find your son, your first thoughts are those of revenge.” The story was not exactly told from a second person perspective, but the phrasing drew the reader in and allowed the reader to experience the story in an unusual way.
I struggled a bit with the world-building in this novel. On one hand, I believe this was an intentional choice by the author. The characters did not know everything, in particular information about the history of the world, so the reader did not either. On the other hand, I was well into the novel before I started to understand the system of magic. I generally appreciate authors who show rather than tell, but because this world was so different from any I had read before, I could have used a bit more tell.
As best as I could understand, the premise of the world was this: The people who can use “magic” in the world are called orogenes. Orogenes can control the way the earth moves – for example, they can stop or start an earthquake. They are feared, and are therefore controlled by a group called Guardians. We don’t know much about Guardians, but we know they can nullify the powers of the orogenes, and keep them from using their power to take over the world. People who do not have power, or are not Guardians, are called stills. The world is called The Stillness. Every few decades, the world experiences some sort of natural disaster which brings about a Season. Seasons can last for just a few years, or a century depending on the disaster. Orogenes use their powers to try to prevent Seasons. Orogenes are “recruited” when they are very young and train in the Fulcrum. There are no failures at the Fulcrum. You either learn to control your powers or you die. Orogenes have no lives outside the ones the Fulcrum and Guardians allow them to have. Some orogenes are more powerful than others. The more rings an orogene earns, the more power they wield.
When we meet Essun, a huge natural disaster has just occurred and a Season is about to begin. Essun suspects the Season will last at least a century. She is determined find her daughter–and kill her husband to avenge her son–before the Season really takes over and people begin dying. She is an orogene in hiding, and on top of the loss of her son and missing daughter, she must struggle with the idea of letting her power back out into the open in order to survive. She is not the most likable character, but as a reader you definitely become invested in her story.
Four and a half stars for this beautiful piece of high fantasy. Not quite five stars, because the timeline was a bit tricky in this novel. I was about halfway through the novel and considering giving up because I couldn’t put things in order, and felt like things were never going to make sense. It was worth it, but I would have liked things to come together just a bit sooner, since I was getting frustrated. But when the penny dropped, so to speak, I devoured the second half of the book. I keep forgetting I finished it, and want to pick it back up and continue being immersed in the story. There is so much we still don’t know! And what we do know is just so impressive. I am so impressed by this author’s world-building and imagination. I don’t know if I would necessarily want to live in this world, since it does end fairly regularly, but I still loved it. The next book is called The Obelisk Gate, and I want it immediately. I need to know what happens to Essun and her friends next. I can’t wait to get back into this world. If you are fans of high fantasy, like Brandon Sanderson or Mark Lawrence, go out and read this book!