The Confidence to Withhold

I’m reading the last in a series of fantasy books by N.K.Jemisin, The Broken Earth Trilogy.

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This series is good, very good.

And the strange thing is, the story is really too dark for me. It’s basically the end of the world; life is hard, and people die. Babies die. Yet I’m drawn to keep reading. I finish one book and want to go right back and read it all over again.

It’s all down to the writing.

I don’t just mean that a lot of this is written in second person, although that’s part of it – and quite a feat to pull off in itself. And it certainly helps that there’s some great world-building as well – the idea of earth-shifting magic particularly appealed to me. Above these, though, the thing that makes me want to read over again is the way the story is structured.

What N.K. has done is hard to describe – and demonstrates so much more mastery of story-telling than I’ve attained that I’m not entirely sure I understand it. If anyone else has read these books, I’d be interested to hear your opinion on what she’s done.

It’s something to do with withholding information, a key part of the main character’s story. Then bringing plot threads together in such a way as to reveal everything at the end – and also hint at a wider plot. Each book has its own major reveal – enough to satisfactorily conclude that stage of the story – yet the overall picture remains elusive until the end of the series.

It’s something to do with non-linearity – following individual story threads in the present and the past, until the combination creates a picture that is wider than the story of each character alone, that encompasses world-changing events. Then drawing these threads together into a satisfying conclusion.

As a writer, I know this is hard to do, incredibly hard. It takes great skill and confidence to be able to hook readers into a story in which nothing has yet been explained. Yet this is what N.K. Jemisin does, seemingly with ease.

I’m in awe.

 

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