Book Review: The Fifth Season

19161852Title: The Fifth Season

Author: N. K. Jemisin

Series: The Broken Earth Trilogy #1

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Orbit

Release Date: August 4th, 2015

Rating: ★★★½

This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

Today I’m going to talk about this under-the-radar book, you’ve surely haven’t heard of it. I mean, it’s not like this trilogy has won two consecutive Hugos and is a favorite to win a third. Jemisin is toootally not considered one of the best voices in fantasy at the moment.

Surprise! This book is really good. Objectively, it’s some of the best fantasy I have ever read.

Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things.

First, I want to talk about the writing style. It’s often simple, conversational even. That doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly effective. It’s unexpected, and just on the words themselves there is a ton of world building. I normally don’t like 3rd person present tense or 2nd person in any form, yet Jemisin has a way of drawing you in.

The worldbuilding, though slow at times, is amazing. The world is vivid, from its language and expressions, to its landscape. There are bits from in-world literature and “stonelore” at the end of every chapter that not only give you a good idea of this world but also have thematic implications. Page by page, the pieces fall into place. It does require you to be an active reader though, there is no lengthy expository passages to ease you in. (Also they’re at a lot of things still left unsolved I cannot wait to find out).

Oppression is a big topic in this book; you can tell that from as early as the dedication. But it is a story of oppression told from the point of view of the oppressed, with nothing but respect toward them. Our three POV characters are “orogenes,” which means they have the power to control the earth, while the Empire does what it can to keep them in control. They were declared as something other than human centuries before the story begins. Jemisin depicts how this sort of systematic oppression affects them with nuance, how it sometimes comes from within, how some adapt, how some rebel. It is incredibly hard to read at times, especially given how they parallel the world we live in. But that’s what literature is for, isn’t it?

It is also a character study in more ways than one. The book starts with Essun’s child beaten to death by her husband. You meet Essun at her worst, when she is feeling something few people can even imagine. And yet, Jemisin goes out of her way to take you there, often through the use of second person. She gives Essun so much humanity and empathy while allowing her not to be the most morally upstanding character. The same thing happens with Syenite, the other main POV, a much younger woman who is starting to see the society that has oppressed her for what it is. Damaya is a bit less complex on account of being a child, but her chapters give a whole other, and needed, perspective. All three perspective mirror each other and intersect in surprisingly satisfying ways.

I will say that for the end of world, this book ends up feeling a bit like a prologue. Some of that is unavoidable because of its structure, and I can’t get much into it because of spoilers. But yeah, though you end up with a good understanding of the world, characters and relationships, not much else happens. It is well paced, though, and these “flaws” don’t become evident until the very end.

Stray Observations

  • I called the main twist but I still got chills!!!!
  • Canon polyamorous relationship! I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before.
  • Also yay! There is a trans character that is not once misgendered.
  • This world has a ton of oppression but never against LGBTQ+ people #bless
  • I had a bit of trouble reading everything involving earthquakes given what happened last year… it’s not the books fault at all, but that made this a bit taxing to read for me at times.
  • Alabaster was probably my fave. Out of the three PoVs, I enjoyed Syenite’s the most.
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