Title: The Fifth Season
Author: N. K. Jemisin
Series: The Broken Earth #1
Rating: 5/5 stars!
The Overview: 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 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.
“The Fifth Season” by N. K. Jemisin first came across my radar when one of the authors I follow casually mentioned that it had a lot of great world-building. In fantasy, I find the more expansive the world-building, the more I tend to become immersed in the story. It has the power to leave me feeling like I’d done more than read a good book, I also had an experience with it. This is probably why I value world-building so highly when evaluating speculative fiction titles. Anyway, when “The Fifth Season” was announced as a nominee for the 2015 Nebula Awards, I knew I had to read it asap.
And it was one of the coolest books I’ve read in ages!
One of my favorite things about the book (and there were many) was the story construction. It was unconventional and totally unlike anything I’ve ever read. Jemisin wove together three POVs (one of which was written in 2nd person) that at first seemed unrelated, but you still got the sense that they’d eventually come together brilliantly (which they did). Jemisin broke rules left and right, deviating from what we are taught makes up solid story construction, and it was fantastic! She clearly knew enough about the rules of writing to break them and still have a solid piece of work to present. If I ever teach a class on writing technique, “The Fifth Season” will be one of my favorite books to have students analyze – it really was that well-done.
Jemisin created a world in which the very earth itself rises up against its inhabitants. The people are at the mercy of the various “seasons” which decimate the population whenever (and wherever) they strike. With such unstable environments, you’d think working together for survival would be everyone’s primary concern. People will be people, however, which means there was no shortage of politicking, power-seeking, and discriminating to be had. It was a fascinating composition of elements that somehow managed to be both foreign in presentation yet completely relatable in concept.
For example, prejudice is very prevailent through the book, but the targets are those gifted with the talent to sense and manipulate movement within the earth. It’s a subtle representation, but definitely makes you aware of the unfairness of each situation based on unjustified things beyond the victim’s control. It’s an aspect I really loved about “The Fifth Season” because it helped make the story thought-provoking and not just downright entertaining. The book also showed diversity in sexual identity and orientation, which you don’t come across too often in fantasy works. I applaud the author for not discriminating in her character construction and reminding us that, at the end of the day, were all just people doing our best to survive and find a measure of happiness.
Overall, I can see why “The Fifth Season” is getting so much attention and think it totally deserves every bit of it. It provided everything I want from a fantasy novel while shattering boundaries and disrupting the status quo at every turn. If I had any complaints, it’s that I’m craving to understand how this world works even more, and the second book (“The Obelisk Gate”) doesn’t come out until next August – woe is me! Fair warning: sexual content and language.
Other books you might like: