The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

I got sad that there’s still no sequel to The City We Became, so I chose one of Jemisin’s sci-fi trilogies to try while I wait. And it is so good, you guys. I’m already feeling withdrawal from this fictional world.

The Fifth Season is set in a world that keeps ending. It appears to be much like the world I live in now, only much later? (Or earlier? Sometimes the two can blur.) This world has just one continent, as far as its inhabitants know, and it is a very active one. “Like an old man lying restlessly abed it heaves and sighs, puckers and farts, yawns and swallows. Naturally this land’s people have named it the Stillness. It is a land of quiet and bitter irony.” There are ruins scattered around from previous civilizations, that preceded earlier Fifth Seasons, those times when the puckering, heaving land goes a little nuts (tsunamis, blows [volcanic eruptions] and shakes [earthquakes] being the most common issues) and life becomes extra difficult for a period of years. (The book offers two helpful appendices, one a catalog of Fifth Seasons and the other a glossary of terms, most of which were easy enough to suss out by context clues, anyway.) Such an unstable world has sprouted an empire (naturally), a caste system, numerous injustices, and policies meant to help its subjects weather the Seasons: storecaches of food, clear divisions of labor, Seasonal Law. This world is peopled by different kinds of people, too. Some of them are “still,” but others have the power to move the earth. These are orogenes (or the derogatory ‘rogga’), and they can use thermal, kinetic and other forms of energy to control and even cause seismic events. Some of them are controlled and wielded in turn, so to speak, by a class of persons known as Guardians. And then there are the stone eaters…

Jemisin’s narrative centers around three characters, three woman orogenes, in three different, distressing points in their lives. We learn about the possible paths for orogenes from their experiences. One of them is navigating a Season after having just lost a child. Another has been trained at the Fulcrum, and is now being sent out on a humiliating assignment. And one is just a girl, frightened of her own power and identity, newly embarked on the world. As each woman’s story advances, we learn more about the single world they share. There are secrets to be revealed, but not much goodness. (When I say I miss this fictional universe, it’s not because it’s pleasant.) I love a big, complex otherworld. And I loved these characters – not just the main three, but a few others as well. Jemisin’s characters have facets and nuance. I appreciate characters who can be flawed and problematic and maybe not people I’d even want to be friends with, but with whom I can feel such strong connections. That’s true to life.

Also, there are pirates.

Lovely worldbuilding, full and complex and deeply layered, plenty deep enough to get lost in. Despite the presence of those two appendices, which I didn’t find until the end!, I was always more or less clear on what was happening (also true to life: when are we ever on entirely solid ground?). Great characters, beautiful writing, opportunities for philosophical pondering, and some superlatively clever plotting. This book has it all; what’s not to love? Jemisin is a rock star (no pun intended).

I’ve already ordered books 2 and 3 in this trilogy, obviously. And somebody had the very clever idea to include, at the back of this book, snippets from the first books in two other Jemisin trilogies as well, so I ordered one of those at the same time. Good thing she’s written plenty. Stay tuned.


Rating: 8 kirkhusa.

2 Responses

  1. […] the end of The Fifth Season, Essun – the latter-day identity of girl we knew as Damaya and the woman we knew as Syenite […]

  2. […] Stone Sky is Book three of the Broken Earth trilogy (following The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate). I raced through this series and am now a firm Jemisin fan. I’m just […]

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