The Fifth Season, N. K. Jemisin (2015)
Insanely interesting and complex world
Great characters across multiple POV and timelines
Didn’t see any of the twists coming
Review: First Thoughts*
The Fifth Season is classified as a science fantasy and from the first page, you understand why. Starting with the apocalypse caused by a seismic event, Jemisin takes us across a world that inhabits a single continent, where seismic events happen often and orogenes – people with the power to control or create seismic events – exist alongside the mysterious Stone Eaters, rock-like beings who are virtually immortal.
The apocalypse is supposedly only occurring because Father Earth is annoyed at the people, the mix of religious and scientific aspects make this book much more complex than the usual fantasy read. While the plot unfolds like a fantasy of epic proportions, as Jemisin unfolds the worldbuilding at a perfect pace, it’s easy to understand the science aspect to this novel.
Following three women’s POV, the all main and side characters are all wonderfully rich and developed.
The book opens with a third person narrator, looking at the scene when the world ends, with the characters unexplained and only understood at the very end. From there, the reader is placed into Essun’s POV, which Jemisin has chosen to be written in second person, reading as ‘you’. The story opens as Essun walks in to find her son dead, beaten to death by his father, who has escaped with their daughter. Essun’s heartbreaking opening is only further advanced by the second person, often used to make the reader feel in the position of the character. However, it reads a little strange as there is no way to relate to such a specific event of such a unique character in such an interesting world. Essun follows the trail after her husband and daughter, meeting strange characters along the way, such as Hoa, who the reader knows to be a Stone Eater by his opening but to which Essun is oblivious to, and Tooke, a mad commless woman who’s backstory was wholly unexpected.
The second POV is Damaya, hated by her parents for being an orogene and taken by a charismatic Guardian to the Fulcrum, a place where orogenes train to be useful to the higher power. While there aren’t many of Damaya’s storyline, it is still very compelling and aids the plot in ways readers won’t understand until the end. The third POV is Syenite, a four-ringed Fulcrum trained orogene, who’s only way to earn more rings and advance her career is to sleep with the irritating ten-ringer, Alabaster. They travel together on a mission, where he shows Syenite aspects to their world she’s never seen and has to rethink their whole society. Syenite’s storyline especially, maybe due to physical distance travelled, gives huge amounts of exposition and backstory, as well as plot advancement, and is by far the favourite personally.
The plot itself, wound between the three POV with no knowledge of where they are in the timeline of events leading up to or past the apocalyptic event, makes this a complex and interesting storyline. There is very little to say without spoilers – but it’s hard to see the twists coming!
Wonderfully written, intensely intriguing and heart-breaking plot, and incredible worldbuilding makes this a firm favourite personally. With two other books in the trilogy, it’s easy to move from the cliff-hanger ending of the Fifth Season, straight onto the next.
*Further Analysis to be done when whole Trilogy complete