If you’re looking for an epic fantasy trilogy to get stuck into then straight out, I’m recommending The Broken Earth trilogy. It is a masterpiece by N. K. Jemisin and is exactly the sort of text fantasy that speculative fiction creators should be striving for.
The Broken Earth trilogy deals with a vengeful Earth as the planet is splitting itself apart and tackles the fight against oppressive orders. There’s geological magic, heartfelt characters and a world full of lore. The charm is in its depth.
In speculative fiction, and in fiction generally, there are conversations going on right now about whether we should even write problematic characters. Broken Earth feels especially fitting because every single one of the characters is problematic – some are likeable, and some most definitely are not. But this is why this text feels revolutionary. It is a firm reminder that authors and audiences do not have to approve of characters or their thoughts. We see what goes on in their mind and through their actions but we are not compelled to agree. Our work as an audience is to question and Broken Earth makes us do that. It will not let us forget that we must question, we must challenge ourselves and the text otherwise literature is failing and serves only capitalism. Broken Earth does not let any order sit comfortably.
It is also a very queer book. There are trans characters and characters of different sexualities and romanticisms. It’s also a very polyamorous book and takes a respectful, comfortable and completely normalising view of polyamory. However, it isn’t entirely comfortable. For instance, at one point it is implied that those who do not experience romantic and sexual attraction are stone people. There’s also a potentially clumsy examination of chronic pain, as one of the characters lives with tremendous pain but repeatedly the narrative turns to his strength and will-power, and how smiling helps to ease the agony. There is always work to be done when it comes to writing broad representation, but these were unfortunate moments. Yet, throughout there is still a sense that the author is undoubtedly committed to trying to be radical, and so its mistakes feel much less hurtful (to myself, anyway, who is directly impacted by the writing on these topics) than when reading a text by a writer who has clearly never tried to engage with different communities and never questioned the world or themselves.
That is what truly makes the book great. It is a refreshing work, and one way a happy ending is never going to be forthcoming but it never stops any of the characters from trying – even when they fuck up, and even when they have moments when they want to watch the world die. They still keep going, flaws and all. This is what makes it such an incredibly relatable fantasy world and makes it all feel so powerful. These are not easy characters, but they do not need to be. They are not heroes, but nobody wants them to be. They just need to save the world.