Title: The Fifth Season
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Series or Standalone?: The Broken Earth #1
Publishing Date: 4 August 2015
“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.”
- child slavery
- physical child abuse
- death of children
- character death
- rape (in the sense that the two characters are ordered to have sex by their commander(s), not one character forcing themselves onto another)
- an all-Black (or nearly all Black) cast of characters
- a polyamorous trio
- multiple transgender characters
I didn’t think I was going to fall absolutely in love with this, but uhhh, here we are. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised anymore, but I am.
I can’t really explain the plot of The Fifth Season without spoiling a lot of the novel, so I’m going to try my best. The book is set in a world where there are people called orogenes: people who can control the Earth (including the rock, lava, crust, etc.). Oftentimes, these people are feared by those around them and are usually looked down upon. Sometimes they are taken to a place called the Fulcrum, where they are trained to control their powers.
The Fifth Season follows three people and their journeys. First, we have Essun. She is a middle-age orogene mother who is trying to find her daughter who recently disappeared. Then we have Syenite, who is an Imperial orogene who must go on a quest/mission with a stronger orogene. And finally, there is Damaya: a young orogene girl who is sent to the Fulcrum to train, after her family comes to the decision that she is too dangerous.
I loved all three of their perspectives! Sometimes, with books that have more than one POV, I like one over the others, but I honestly couldn’t wait to get to all three of them. The three of them all had engaging stories, and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to see what happened next.
On top of that? Let’s talk about the diversity! If I remember correctly, all or nearly all of the cast of characters we have are Black. One may be considered white, but…well, you’ll figure it out if you read the book why I’m not sure, lol. And also??? We have casual polyamory, which is so cool. I think this may be the first book I’ve read with polyamory, and I thought the trio was amazing! On top of that, we also have a trans woman character and (if I remember correctly, sorry, my memory is jacked up) a trans man character. I just really enjoyed the diversity in this book, and I can’t wait to see what the next two books bring.
As for the writing itself: it is SO GOOD. Seriously, I have nothing but good things to say about it. The story itself kind thrusts you into the middle without preamble and you’re left to blunder a little bit until you understand the world. But, if you do get a bit too lost, there are a couple appendices at the end of the novel that can give you a bit more context. I…didn’t realize that until the end, lol. But! As someone who is new to Adult fantasy (as well as science fantasy specifically), I was able to piece together the world-building within the context of what was going on. I didn’t personally find it difficult to get through once I read through a chunk of the book.
I also have to say that this novel definitely sold me on second person point of view. Before reading The Fifth Season, I had no idea it could even be used in fiction outside of seeing it a bit in fanfic, but wow, was I surprised to see that Essun’s chapters were in 2nd person. I thought I fit the story really well, and I’m happy I was able to experience it for the first time with Jemisin’s novel.
But also, if you don’t know this, you will now: this is not a happy read. There are happy moments, yes. Moments that will make you let your guard down and think, “Wow, everyone’s so content!” Moments that will let you have the slightest glimmer of hope. And then you know what happens to those moments? They’re crushed. Obliterated. Turned to dust. But like dust, the hope is still there all around you, lingering. It never really goes away, it’s always settling somewhere. Basically, all of this to say that this is not a happy book, but to me, it’s a hopeful one. I’m hoping, at the end of the trilogy, no matter what happens, the characters end up with some sort of ending that fits them. It probably won’t be the happiest ending in the world, but I feel like it’ll be enough that the characters would say, “The journey was worth it.” at the end.
Feel free to follow me!
Want to support me or leave a tip? Here’s how!