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.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This week I added a book that sounds pretty interesting to the to-read list!

If you missed it last week, I reviewed Nalo Hopkinson’s short story collection Falling in Love With Hominids, which was February’s Patreon book selection. I enjoyed many of the stories, and I now really want to read a novel or a collection of short stories about the characters from “Emily Breakfast”!

On to the books!

The Second Death by T. Frohock

The Second Death (Los Nefilim #3) by T. Frohock

The third Los Nefilim novella will be released in ebook on March 29. It follows In Midnight’s Silence and Without Light or Guide.

I rarely read and review ebooks since a) I prefer reading print and b) I find it easier to review books I read in print, but I did read and review In Midnight’s Silence since I was quite impressed with T. Frohock’s debut novel, Miserere: An Autumn Tale. I enjoyed it, and it succeeded in making me want to read more about the world and characters of Los Nefilim.


Save the world, or save his family…

For Diago Alvarez, that’s the choice before him. For unless he wants to see his son Rafael die, he must do the unthinkable:

Help the Nazis receive the plans to the ultimate weapon.

And while Diago grows more comfortable not only with his heritage, but also with his place among Guillermo’s Los Nefilim, he is still unsure if he truly belongs amongst them.

In a frantic race to save the future of humanity, Diago is forced to rely on his daimonic nature to deceive an angel. In doing so, he discovers the birth of a modern god—one that will bring about a new world order from which no one can escape.

The Second Death is the final chapter in T. Frohock’s haunting and lyrical Los Nefilim trilogy, which bestselling author Mark Lawrence has called “a joy to read.”

Additional Books:

Falling in Love with Hominids
by Nalo Hopkinson
240pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 7/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.05/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.95/5

Falling in Love with Hominids contains eighteen short stories by acclaimed author Nalo Hopkinson, whose accolades include a World Fantasy Award, a John W. Campbell Award for Best First Novel, a Locus Award for Best First Novel, a Philip K. Dick Award nomination, a New York Times Notable Book, two Sunburst Awards, a Gaylactic Spectrum Award, and a Prix Aurora Award. This collection also contains a foreword explaining the title’s origins and a brief introduction for each story, also written by the author.

My first—and only, before this book—experience with Nalo Hopkinson’s writing was her most recent novel, Sister Mine. I very much enjoyed this story about formerly conjoined twins with a demigod father, and I’ve wanted to read more of her work ever since. In general, I prefer longer fiction to short stories since I like to be able to spend time learning about the world and characters, and I did prefer Sister Mine to this collection; however, there were a few individual stories I liked every bit as much or even more than this novel. Falling in Love with Hominids contains an impressive assortment of tales with a variety of writing styles, character voices, and influences, ranging from lighthearted in tone to disturbingly dark. Many were strange and whimsical, and even if I didn’t love a story, I usually found it memorable due to its uniqueness.

Two of my favorites were the creepiest stories. The basic premise of “Blushing” is familiar: a husband tells his new bride that she may have a key to every room in the house, except one. Of course, his wife then embarks on a quest to discover a way to get into this forbidden chamber, and it seems like a fairly conventional plot until suddenly it isn’t. The ending was far more horrific than I’d imagined, and as unsettling as it was, I loved how it veered into unexpected territory. “The Easthound” starts with a bunch of children playing a simple game and shows their fear: not just of the mysterious easthound but of eating too much, leading to growing too quickly. By the end of the story, the whole picture—and again, an even more terrifying danger than I’d been expecting—are revealed.

The only other story I enjoyed as much as these two especially unnerving ones was actually one of the lighter ones, “Emily Breakfast.” It’s a perfectly ordinary start to the weekend when Cranston makes a trip to the garden and chicken coop to collect spinach and eggs for breakfast with his flying cat, Rose of Sharon, in tow. However, when he calls the hens only two of them appear and he discovers Emily Breakfast is missing. There’s no sign of a tussle with a predatory animal, and Cranston rushes back to the house to tell his husband, Ser Maracle, that he thinks she was stolen, leading to a search by the two men, their cat, and the rest of the neighborhood. The characters, both human and animal, were vividly drawn, and I would love to read either a novel or more short stories about the misadventures of Cranston, Ser Maracle, their cat, and their fierce fire-breathing chickens.

Although those three are easily the ones I liked best, there are other highlights as well: “Message in a Bottle,” about a man’s encounter with a friend’s adopted child who is not what she seems; “The Smile on the Face,””Shift,” a tale inspired by The Tempest with riveting alternating narratives; and “Delicious Monster,” in which a man visits his father and his partner to end up witnessing a mythical, life-altering event. Although I felt this three page story was underdeveloped, “Men Sell Not Such in Any Town” was a fascinating story that left me wanting to read a longer, more detailed version.

In general, the stories that included exploration of characters or their personal relationships worked the best for me, which may be why most of the shortest stories didn’t leave as much of an impression on me. “Soul Case,” the tale of a group of escaped slaves facing those from whom they fled, was decent but didn’t stick with me since it was an account of events that didn’t have much focus on individual characters. “Flying Lessons” and “Whose Upward Flight I Love,” the two shortest at less than two pages each, were the only two stories I didn’t find at all compelling. (It is entirely possible I missed key information on the first of those two having never read The Little Prince.)

As is always the case with short story collections, not all of the stories worked for me, but even most of those that I didn’t particularly enjoy were notable because of the depth of imagination that went into them. However, those that did work for me shone very brightly indeed, and I found Falling in Love with Hominids to be a book well worth reading for its uniqueness and engaging variety of characters, narrative voices, and types of stories.

My Rating: 7/10

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

This book is February’s selection from a poll on Patreon.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

It’s been a quiet week here due to working on other projects, but I finished Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson earlier this weekend and am now working on a review.

On to last week’s new books!

Supernova by C. A. Higgins

Supernova (Lightless #2) by C. A. Higgins

The second book in the Lightless trilogy, which began with C. A. Higgins’ debut novel by the same name, will be released on July 26 (hardcover, ebook). Entertainment Weekly has an excerpt from Supernova as well as an excerpt from Lightless.


C. A. Higgins’s acclaimed novel Lightless fused suspenseful storytelling, high-caliber scientific speculation, and richly developed characters into a stunning science fiction epic. Now the dazzling Supernova heightens the thrills and deepens the haunting exploration of technology and humanity—and the consequences that await when the two intersect.

Once Ananke was an experimental military spacecraft. But a rogue computer virus transformed it—her—into something much more: a fully sentient artificial intelligence, with all the power of a god—and all the unstable emotions of a teenager.

Althea, the ship’s engineer and the last living human aboard, nearly gave her life to save Ananke from dangerous saboteurs, forging a bond as powerful as that between mother and daughter. Now she devotes herself completely to Ananke’s care. But teaching a thinking, feeling machine—perhaps the most dangerous force in the galaxy—to be human proves a monumental challenge. When Ananke decides to seek out Matthew Gale, the terrorist she regards as her father, Althea learns that some bonds are stronger than mortal minds can understand—or control.

Drawn back toward Earth by the quest, Althea and Ananke will find themselves in the thick of a violent revolution led by Matthew’s sister, the charismatic leader Constance, who will stop at nothing to bring down a tyrannical surveillance state. As the currents of past decisions and present desires come into stark collision, a new and fiery future is about to be born.

In yhe Shadow of the Gods by Rachel Dunne

In the Shadow of the Gods (Bound Gods #1) by Rachel Dunne

Rachel Dunne’s debut, one of five science fiction and fantasy novels to win Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award in 2014, has been revised for publication by Harper Voyager. This edition will be released on June 21 (paperback, ebook).


A breathtaking talent makes her debut with this first book in a dark epic fantasy trilogy, in which a mismatched band of mortals, led by violent, secretive man, must stand against a pair of resentful gods to save their world.

Eons ago, a pair of gods known as the “Twins” grew powerful in the world of Fiatera, until the Divine Mother and Almighty Father exiled them, binding them deep in the earth. But the price of keeping the fire-lands safe is steep. To prevent these young gods from rising again, all twins in the land must be killed at birth, a safeguard that has worked, until now.

Trapped for centuries, the Twins are gathering their latent powers to break free and destroy the Parents for their tyranny—a fight between two generations of gods for control of the world and the mortals who dwell in it.

When the gods make war, only one side can be victorious. Joros, a mysterious and cunning priest, has devised a dangerous plan to win. Over eight years, he gathers a team of disparate fighters—Scal, a lost and damaged swordsman from the North; Vatri, a scarred priestess who claims to see the future in her fires; Anddyr, a drug-addled mage wandering between sanity and madness; and Rora and Aro, a pair of twins who have secretly survived beyond the reach of the law.

These warriors must learn to stand together against the unfathomable power of vengeful gods, to stop them from tearing down the sun . . . and plunging their world into darkness.

Additional Books:

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This post covers the last couple of weeks since I got the cold that won’t go away and felt even worse last weekend than I did the week before. Unfortunately, my brain hasn’t been up to review writing whenever I’ve tried in the last week, but after the last one of these posts went up, there were two more that followed:

Now, on to the new books…

Dreams of Distant Shores by Patricia A. McKillip

Dreams of Distant Shores by Patricia A. McKillip

Dreams of Distant Shores will be released on June 14 (paperback, ebook). It features seven short stories, including three previously unpublished, an essay on writing high fantasy, and an afterword by Peter S. Beagle. The complete table of contents is on the publisher’s website.

My introduction to Patricia A. McKillip’s work was her wonderful collection Wonders of the Invisible World so I’m quite excited about this one! I also love the cover of Dreams of Distant Shores.


A youthful artist is possessed by both his painting and his muse. Seductive travelers from the sea enrapture distant lovers. The statue of a mermaid comes suddenly to life. Two friends are transfixed by a haunted estate.

Bestselling author Patricia A. McKillip (The Riddle-Master of Hed) is one of the most lyrical writers gracing the fantasy genre. With the debut of three brand-new stories, Dreams of Distant Shores is a true ode to her many talents. Fans of McKillip’s ethereal fiction will delight in these previously-uncollected tales; those new to her work will find much to enchant them.

The Immortals by Jordanna Max Brodsky

The Immortals (Olympus Bound #1) by Jordanna Max Brodsky

This debut novel was released last week (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). The first chapter of The Immortals is on the Olympus Bound website.


Manhattan has many secrets. Some are older than the city itself.

The city sleeps. Selene DiSilva walks her dog along the banks of the Hudson. She is alone — just the way she likes it. She doesn’t believe in friends, and she doesn’t speak to her family. Most of them are simply too dangerous.

In the predawn calm, Selene finds the body of a young woman washed ashore, gruesomely mutilated and wreathed in laurel. Her ancient rage returns. And so does the memory of a promise she made long ago — when her name was Artemis.

Calamity by Brandon Sanderson

Calamity (Reckoners #3) by Brandon Sanderson

The conclusion to the Reckoners trilogy, following Steelheart and Firefight, was released last week (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). There is an excerpt from Calamity on, but if you haven’t read the series from the beginning and want to avoid potential spoilers, there’s an excerpt from Steelheart on A.V. Club.


When Calamity lit up the sky, the Epics were born. David’s fate has been tied to their villainy ever since that historic night. Steelheart killed his father. Firefight stole his heart. And now Regalia has turned his closest ally into a dangerous enemy.

David knew Prof’s secret, and kept it even when Prof struggled to control the effects of his Epic powers. But facing Obliteration in Babilar was too much. Once the Reckoners’ leader, Prof has now embraced his Epic destiny. He’s disappeared into those murky shadows of menace Epics are infamous for the world over, and everyone knows there’s no turning back…

But everyone is wrong. Redemption is possible for Epics—Megan proved it. They’re not lost. Not completely. And David is just about crazy enough to face down the most powerful High Epic of all to get his friend back. Or die trying.

Additional Books:

In November, the Fantasy Café Patreon account, which has a reward tier that allows voting on blog content for a post during the next month, was launched. Last month’s book was The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip, a wonderful stand alone fantasy nominated for the Mythopoeic Award. The February theme was a book not published by a large publisher, and the winner is…

Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

An alluring new collection from the author of the New York Times Notable Book, Midnight Robber

Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the Ring, The Salt Roads, Sister Mine) is an internationally-beloved storyteller. Hailed by the Los Angeles Times as having “an imagination that most of us would kill for,” her Afro-Caribbean, Canadian, and American influences shine in truly unique stories that are filled with striking imagery, unlikely beauty, and delightful strangeness.

In this long-awaited collection, Hopkinson continues to expand the boundaries of culture and imagination. Whether she is retelling The Tempest as a new Caribbean myth, filling a shopping mall with unfulfilled ghosts, or herding chickens that occasionally breathe fire, Hopkinson continues to create bold fiction that transcends boundaries and borders.

I’ve wanted to read more by Nalo Hopkinson since reading Sister Mine so I’m looking forward to reading this collection! It will be read and reviewed later this month, and next month I’ll announce the March winner, a recent SFF debut (“recent” being a book published within the last four years) by a new-to-me author.