Sometimes you have to give someone a second chance.
In this case, I tried to read N. K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and not only was I confused, but bored. Gods meddling with humans is not my thing.
So, I shunned her novels for years until the acclaim became so great I felt I should try again.
After all, winning the Hugo three years in a row is quite a feat. Lois McMasters Bujold, my favorite author, has won four times and only Asimov, Willis, and Vinge have won three times, and not sequentially. All other authors have won two or less… or not at all.
So I started with The Fifth Season.
Right off the bat, I want to say that I did enjoy the whole series. But first, I had to get over being angry. At the very beginning, Jemisin writes as if the reader is sitting next to her in an easy chair and Jemisin is telling her a story … that flips back and forth through time.
Her first sentence : “Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things.”
Start at the end? Talk straight to the reader?
What she moves on to is a detailed description of the land using an incredible amount of telling in third person ubiquitous. She also describes two people, one a man who raises his arms and creates a gigantic earthquake and breaks the land. You have no idea who he is or why he does what he is doing. Even, how he can do it. His description isn’t woven in the story as so many experts tell an author to do, but told… Telling not showing.
We have an award winning author writing from a point of view that many so-called word police say you shouldn’t. Keep your author’s comments and voice out of the story, they say. Also, “show, don’t tell.”
She didn’t. Lots of description.
Voice intrudes throughout the series.
“Don’t jump back and forth in time, you’ll only confused the reader.”
Then after long descriptions of the land, a city, and a strange metamorphosis of rock to a human shape, in the next chapter, she switches to the second person to tell the story of Essun who discovers her son dead in her home.
Second person narrative. Tricky at best.
With little background at this point, the reader has no idea what is happening until Nemisin hones the story down to Essun, a middle-aged, impoverished woman who walks into her home to find her son murdered by her husband, his father.
So, now the reader is interested. Why?
We find out Essun is an orogene, which means she has the ability to move the earth and control certain elements of the ground … and other scary stuff.
Her kind is hated and feared, and she has to hide what she is. Her children are to be eliminated to protect humanity. So, her son is murdered by his father when he realizes what his son is. For some reason he doesn’t kill the daughter, but runs away with her with plans to kill her.
But how did Essun come to this state?
Next chapter, we skip back to her childhood where as a young child she is sold by her mother to frightening warrior called “a Guardian.” He takes her to the Fulcrum, a place where orogenes like her are controlled and trained. The first thing the guardian does, once he finds her hiding in the barn under the straw, is place a tracker inside the back of her head. He smiles and says nice words, but doesn’t mean any of it.
So, the story takes off. You become used to being addressed directly at various points in the story and the changes in viewpoints, and the jumps through time. The land becomes almost another character as it affects the lives of the beings on the planet, not all of them human.
By the end of the first book, when I realized the planet was unstable due to a missing moon, I was ready to read the second in the series, The Obelisk Gate. This follows Essun as she searches for her daughter to try and save her. Only her daughter is growing more and more powerful, and can do a few things of her own.
I was interested in following more of the life of Essun, first known as Damaya, and also other names. Keep track.
The second book jumps back and forth between her and her daughter’s experiences. Yes, a bit confusing, but I wanted to know how they were going to save the planet from the many episodes of upheavals called “the Stillnesses.” These are dramatic upheavals of the dangerous planet that create devastating events such as plagues, floods, etc. and can happen at any time and last ages, or not.
Would the moon ever return? And if it did, would ancient technology left by a previous race, enable them to capture it and stabilize the planet?
So, I read The Obelisk Gate and then The Stone Sky.
I was hooked.
I realized an original and interesting story often trumps certain rules of writing.
Often the guidelines are there to strengthen your writing. Yesterday, I read Diana Wallace’s blog and finally understood “filter” words and how they weaken your writing.
Read her blog for more details at:
In commerce, the middle man is being taken out of the transaction. Amazon goes directly to the buyer, eliminating the publishing house or consumer. In the same way, words such as heard, felt, thought are filters that diminish the reader’s experience. Here is an example taken from Diana’s blog that will explain.
Greta stood on her front porch. She felt the long-awaited spring call her with a rustling of leaves and patter of hummingbird wings. A smile brightened her face as she watched them battle around the feeder that she’d remembered to fill yesterday. She supposed she wasn’t the only one enjoying the languid morning. On the porch rail, she saw her lazy tabby stretch and heard his rumbling purr as she rubbed his ears. She knew he liked the sunshine; she imagined he always had.
Correction without filter words:
Greta stood on her front porch. The long-awaited spring called her with a rustling of leaves and patter of hummingbird wings. A smile brightened her face as they battled around the feeder that she’d filled yesterday. She wasn’t the only one enjoying the languid morning. On the porch rail, her lazy tabby stretched, and he rumbled a purr as she rubbed his ears. He liked the sunshine; he always had.
See the difference?
For more explanations and other great insights, check out her blog.
Yes, yes, I know that I just ranted and raved about a triple Hugo winner breaking all the rules, and then I turn around and give you a rule.
Who said writing was easy?