“The Fifth Season” by N.K. Jemisin

“The Fifth Season” by N.K. JemisinThe Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1) by N.K. Jemisin
Series: The Broken Earth #1
Published: 2015 by Orbit
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction
Pages: 449
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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I’ve been an N.K. Jemisin fangirl ever since I heard her do a reading at the New York Public Library while I was at Book Expo a few years back.  I was blown away by her writing, and the way that her fantasy stories felt so fresh and un-Tolkein-like.  So when my book club decided to read Jemisin’s latest novel, The Fifth Season, I was delighted.

The Fifth Season is set in a futuristic Earth where due to some prior cataclysm, there are now frequent life-ending catastrophes known as Seasons.  We’re talking years of darkness and acid rain, pestilence, and apocalyptic events, which can (and do) wipe out entire civilizations.  This has been going on for long enough that mankind has adapted (sort of), and now pockets of individuals have survived Seasons and repopulated the Earth.  There are also X-men type mutants who known as orogenes, who have the ability to manipulate seismic events.  The orogenes have the power to make or break a community’s safety, but because they’re so powerful, they are mistrusted, oppressed, and enslaved.  Against this backdrop, we meet a woman named Essun.  She’s secretly an orogene, and so are her children.  Her husband finds out that her son is an orogene and beats him to death, then flees the village.  Essun worries about her daughter, and so she takes off after them.  And that’s as much information as I’m going to give you here, because it’s way too easy to go into serious spoiler territory.  Instead, it’s time for some bullet points!

Strengths:

  • An rule-based magic system featuring earthquakes and floating obelisks from a dead civilization
  • No giant infodumps
  • Diverse characters
  • Exploration of thorny social issues
  • ROCK PEOPLE!  Seriously, they were my favorite.

Weaknesses:

  • The Fifth Season jumps around a lot in time and space, giving readers very little solid ground as an anchor (‘solid ground’ – see what I did there?)
  • The story sometimes uses second person narration, which can be jarring.
  • There aren’t any sympathetic characters.  It’s hard to sympathize with Essun once she starts killing people.
  • There aren’t any infodumps, and so readers have to infer a lot about the world and how it works.  There are no answers.

It was an interesting experience for me to read this book as part of a book club, because even though I’m an N.K. Jemisin fangirl, I was much more critical of this book than the Inheritance Trilogy or Dreamblood books.  It jumped around a lot, and it wasn’t until about 300 pages in that things really started coming together and feeling a bit more cohesive.  Once I got to that point, I was hooked.  I finished the book, silently raged that my questions were not answered, preordered the next book, which comes out in August, and raged that it is not August yet.  I’m dying to find out more about the rock people and to see where this story will go next.

Out of our book club group, I was the one that liked the book the most.  Some people in our group didn’t like it at all, and others were on the fence.  So my general conclusion here is that while I enjoyed The Fifth Season tremendously, it probably isn’t for everyone.

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2 comments

  1. I REALLY need to read more N.K. Jemisin books! I absolutely adored The Inheritance Trilogy when I read it years ago, so I’m pretty surprised I haven’t yet! Especially since I have only heard good things about them, and their diversity is on point.

    The Fifth Season sounds SUPER intense, and also pretty good. It’s a shame that you didn’t love it QUITE as much as you might have, but maybe the sequel will answer some of your questions and make you love it, haha XD

    The father murdering his son sounds incredibly brutal and I hope he gets his just desserts, just sayin’.

    Great review! 😀

    1. Her writing is sooooo good. I still need to finish the second Dreamblood book.

      And the Fifth Season is a lot more intense than the others, IMO. It reminds me a lot of Octavia Butler’s novels–a little more pessimistic, even though there’s still that hope that the world doesn’t have to be like this.