Our story begins with the fall of civilization.
Our story begins with a woman who has just found her murdered son's body.
This is a world with a long history of civilizations that fall, when the arrival of a "fifth season," a years-long winter triggered by earthquakes and volcanoes, lasts long enough that larger political systems can't outlast it.
This is also a world with a body of traditional knowledge, the Stone Lore, that is passed down even through the fall of civilizations and the rise of new ones, because it's about how to survive these unpredictable "fifth seasons.." And it's about the orogenes, the people who have the power to move or still the earth, to cause or prevent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Essun comes home from teaching at the local creche, and finds the body of her young son, beaten to death. Her husband is gone, and so is their daughter--she assumes their daughter is dead, too, and wants to find her body. She knows why her husband killed them; he realized that their children are orogenes, people able to control the movements of the earth, in a world where quakes and volcanoes cause extinction level events every few hundred years.
Essun is an orogene, one who fled the Fulcrum and the capital, and hid her ability, telling no one in this small town.
In alternating sections, we get the stories of Essun, Syen, and Damayo. Syen is an orogene sent out from the Fulcrum to deal with a coral-blocked harbor in an outlying town. Damayo is a young girl who is discovered to be an orogene and is taken by a Guardian to the Fulcrum to be trained to serve the empire.
Syen is partnered with an older orogene, a ten-ring, senior orogene, a man whom she comes to believe may be crazy. She doesn't know how right she is, and most of all she doesn't know why.
Damayo meets a girl of the Leader caste, and they find a very, very strange room, which turns out to be unexpectedly dangerous.
Essun, while tracking her husband, meets a very strange boy, and then an equally strange woman, who wind up traveling with her.
These three stories interact and overlap in interesting and deeply moving ways.
This isn't a cheerful book. It starts with the collapse of civilization and doesn't get more cheerful from there. And it's the first of a trilogy. Those are reasons I had chosen not to read it, until it became a Hugo Finalist. Now, though, I'm glad I did. It's an excellent book, thoroughly deserves its nomination, and may well win.
I bought this book.