Saturday, August 27, 2016

Book Review: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

The Hugo Award-winning novel delivers a tale that stuns and enchants readers with a unique voice and characters and abilities not commonly seen in the genre. The book is filled with twists and turns and while I will try my best not to write spoilers, I can't trust myself as I recall the complexity of the plot. I would highly recommend fantasy fans and readers who enjoy exhaustive world-building with characters that are easy to fall in love with but also break your heart. N. K. Jemisin does a brilliant job with The Fifth Season to start The Broken Earth Trilogy, and I am eagerly looking forward to picking up The Obelisk Gate. 

The setting is one of the crucial parts of the story. Ironically called the Stillness, the lands are corrupted by human mining, shifting tectonic plates, and powerful abilities of the people who inhabit it. Every few hundred years or so, the world experiences a devastating season that tears the ground apart and spills ash and acid rain into the air. People struggle to survive catastrophic occurrences, sometimes without warning and very little means to protect themselves. The greatest hope for protection is a race of humans who can control the rock known as orogenes, or also referred to with the derogative term "roggas".

Three characters split up the chapters as the viewpoint switches from Essun at the end of the world, Syenite, a four-ringer orogene, and Damaya, a young girl recruited to attend a school that feels like a prison for children with special abilities. The story of Essun is narrated in the second person using this narrative form in the best way I can remember reading. She is racked with grief as she introduced over the body of her child and sets out on an unforgettable journey to find her older offspring kidnapped by her vicious husband. Syenite has earned her rings at the school and is now forced to become a breeder to a higher ranking orogene as she completes missions for the mysterious Fulcrum. Guardians are able to control the orogenes and prevent them from causing unwanted destruction. Damaya gives us the viewpoint of a child rising up from a young "grit" to her first ring test. Each one of these stories is captivating and moving along with captivating developments that will keep fantasy readers from turning pages.

Not only have the types of characters been seen before, and Jemisin is so excellent at giving these characters a vivid world to live in and identifiable feeling despite the extraordinary nature of the surroundings, but the earth-shaking power of the orogenes is something I've never encountered in fiction before. There are other mysterious inhabitants of the Stillness that are introduced including the Stone Eaters that can shift through stone and though may appear human are actually much more. I cannot wait to jump back into this world for the sequel. The history is seemingly fully fleshed out and I got easily lost in the background information, exemplified by the appendices at the back, as well as the current situation of each character.

This book is more than deserving of all the recognition it has received and I hope Jemisin continues to produce great fiction well into the future. I plan on picking up plenty more of her stories for my personal reading. The book delves into complicated social issues like prejudice and preservation while telling a compelling tale with memorable characters. The story includes action, romance, fantasy, and heartbreak, balancing them out with a compelling plot and wonderful prose. I look forward to more fantasy books like this one. 

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