Title: The Fifth Season
Author: N. K. Jemisin
Series? Yes. 1 of 3 (?)
Rating: 5/5 stars!!!!!
I loved this book from the first page, and it only got better as I kept reading. It has everything that inspires me to read: beautiful and unique writing; an intricate and dangerous fantasy world; strong characters – especially strong female characters; diverse without being all self-congratulatory… I could go on. AND I WILL. Right below.
This is what you must remember: the ending of one story is just the beginning of another. This has happened before, after all. People die. Old orders pass. New societies are born. When we say “the world has ended,” it’s usually a lie, because the planet is just fine. But this is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. For the last time.
1. STILLNESS: The Land That Metamorphoses
Here is a land. It is ordinary, as lands go. Mountains and plateaus and canyons and river deltas, the usual. Ordinary, except for its size and its dynamism. It moves a lot, this land. 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.
The book is set in Stillness, ironically named as their Earth is one that constantly changes, remolding and destroying civilisations in its wake. The changes between Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter are trivial compared to these geographic events. You know what the titular Fifth Season is? It’s DEATH. Stillness has suffered through multiple iteration of The Fifth Season such as Acid Season, Boiling Season, Fungus Season, The Season of Teeth – the names alone should suggest how brutal each of these apocalyptic events were. The story begins at the end of the world, Stillness is used to the end of the world. I never knew geography and tectonic plates movement could be so exciting. Father Earth is his own character in this book, at once he is great and terrible.
2. OROGENES: A Tale In Three Parts
Every time the earth moves, you will hear its call. In every moment of danger you will reach, instinctively, for the nearest source of warmth and movement…. When a threat is imminent, of course you’ll do what you must to protect yourself. And when you do, people will die.
The story follows the perspective of three females. They’re all orogenes: people with the ability to manipulate the earth’s movement. They can quell shakes, but they can also wreck great destruction via earthquake, volcanic eruptions, or just plain freezing people to death (as the practice of orogeny draws heat). The orogenes have literally god-like ability, yet they are treated as a subclass of humans, and are derogatorily named rogga by commoners. They’re either forced to enter The Fulcrum to hone their arts and serve the government; or they are killed. As orogeny is very much an ability intrinsically linked to emotions,their people cannot escape servitude or death.
“Tell them they can be great someday, like us. Tell them they belong among us, no matter how we treat them. Tell them they must earn the respect which everyone else receives by default. Tell them there is a standard for acceptance; that standard is simply perfection. Kill those who scoff at these contradictions, and tell the rest that the dead deserved annihilation for their weakness and doubt. Then they’ll break themselves trying for what they’ll never achieve.”
These three female perspective weaves together the life and experiences of an orogene in a non-linear fashion. Firstly, we have Essun – a 42 year old woman. We meet her as she mourns over her son’s dead body, the boy was murdered by his own father. Her story tells of an orogene who has managed to hide her power -but her progeny had to pay the ultimate price. There’s grief, there’s wariness, there’s a lot of regret in her story. Next up is Syenite, a four-ringed orogene of the Fulcrum – she has been taught to obey and served; even if it means partnering up with an older mentor and breeding with him. Finally, we have Damaya – a young girl who has been left by her parents and brought to the Fulcrum: she views it as her only source of purpose in life.
I love the experiences of all three characters, and I thought N. K. Jemisin did an excellent job of keeping their voices and timeline distinct – yet making the story cohesive. When these three narratives eventually collide, it is beautiful, and awesome, and leaves me excited for the sequel.
3. THE BEAUTIFUL WRITING: Also In Three Ways
When I started reading The Fifth Season, I got all ready to highlight all the beautiful writing, as you do! Then I realised I was highlighting THE WHOLE BOOK. The proses are my favourite, lyrical and flowing without being pretentious or excessive. She even employs different writing styles, which I usually hate, but it’s done so well here.
First, the narrator tell us of the grand story of the Stillness and its ages in a storybook-like third person narrative. Then we have Essun’s point of view, which is done in second person present tense! My least favourite, but it totally works. Finally, Damaya and Syenite’s stories are in limited third person. At first, the constant shift in style, perspective, and timeline may leave you a bit bewildered – but trust me, you should just hold on tight and enjoy the ride! You definitely won’t regret it.
Also, can I love how much diversity there was in this book? That’s rare for a fantasy. Also rare for the book not to go all our trumpeting the fact. There are people of colour, people of different sexuality and different gender identity, but no fuss is ever made about it. It just is, and I LOVE it.
Basically, if my gushing was not enough to convince you, GO AND READ THIS IMMEDIATELY.
*rolls on the floor waiting for the next book*
ALSO AMAZING NEWS: I will now coblog 1-2 a week at The Social Potato with the amazing Faye, Aimee and Rashika!! Come visit me there 😀