The Fifth Season
by N. K. Jemisin
512pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 4.7/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.36/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.33/5

Book Description from Goodreads:

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.

N. K. Jemisin is a phenomenal writer who excels at narrative voice, worldbuilding, and characterization. Her debut novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, is wonderful, and I also added The Broken Kingdoms and The Killing Moon to my favorites list after reading them (The Killing Moon remains my favorite of all her books I’ve read).  I was incredibly excited to hear about her Broken Earth trilogy, and though I didn’t find it as gripping as the other books just mentioned, The Fifth Season is a brilliant novel and a strong start to the series.

The beginning immediately made me want to keep reading. It introduced the Stillness (“a land of quiet and bitter irony” because it’s anything but still) and Essun, a forty-two year old woman who just found the body of her not-quite-three-year-old son Uche—killed by his own father, who must have discovered the boy was an orogene like his mother. Essun hid the fact that she’s an orogene as they are commonly feared, misunderstood, and treated as less than human, for though their power can quell the shakes and save, it can also destroy. After the prologue, sections focusing on Essun are written in second person, and it’s heartbreaking to read about her loss. For two days, she shuts down, staying near his body, but soon she leaves to search for her husband because he has their daughter, also an orogene.

As you can probably tell from that start, The Fifth Season can be a rather dark book. It shows a young orogene being taken from her family so she can be trained to control her power by any means necessary—even violent ones. It shows a woman whose eyes are opened to the truth of the terrible fate of some orogenes. It’s about the end of the world, the rewriting of history, and the unjust treatment of a group of people, and as such is not a happy book, though it is a powerfully memorable one peopled with compelling characters. I loved that it had a complex, well-developed “older” woman as a protagonist, a survivor who could be caring and compassionate and fierce and prickly.

It’s also a smartly written book with a fantastic twist. Even though I realized what was going on long before it was revealed, it’s so fitting that it seems inevitable and smoothly integrated rather than a supposed shocking revelation that’s eye-rollingly predictable. If my theory had turned out to be incorrect, I would have been sorely disappointed since it worked perfectly with this book.

The only reason I don’t love The Fifth Season the way I do many of N. K. Jemisin’s other books is the pacing. It does seem to be setting up the rest of the trilogy, and given that, it seems like it’s just getting to the meat of the story at the end. Since I did enjoy the world and characters, there were times I found it completely engrossing anyway, but there were also other times I wanted it to move faster.

Despite not finding it quite as engaging as most of the books I’ve read by the author, The Fifth Season is a book I appreciated very much. It’s a well-written book set in a unique world filled with complicated characters, and the fascinating setting and mysteries yet to be unraveled have made me quite eager to read The Obelisk Gate, coming this August!

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: Finished copy from the publisher.