N.K. Jemisin – The Fifth Season
The world is ending. It has ended before, and it will end again. In N.K. Jemisin’s sixth novel The Fifth Season, Father Earth himself is the enemy, rupturing the world’s only continent through quakes, volcano eruptions, tsunamis and storms every couple of decades and sending its people into chaos as a result. The only thing standing between them and the wrath of the Earth are the orogenes, people born with the ability to connect with and draw power from the earth, but their power is feared and orogenes are hated and haunted across the continent. The story begins with yet another apocalypse – perhaps the most deadly one yet – and centers on three women: the child Damaya, the rising orogene Syenite, and Essun, an orogene trying to hide her powers – all of them at different stages in their lives, all of them facing the end of their world, in different places and different ways.
The Fifth Season is a clever book. Unlike much epic fantasy that puts the epicness in its worldbuilding with the help of a massive character gallery, Jemisin instead builds the scope and depth of her world through the weaving together of the three narrative threads and an ingeniously structured plot. It’s a slow build, but it doesn’t matter because The Fifth Season is an enjoyable read every step of the way. It is a fantasy novel that is not in the least interested in the upholding the status quo – how could that even be possible to do for long in a world that is continuously going under? – but rather about showing how fragile it can be, even as it holds people in an iron grip and is always reinventing itself. Stillness, the world Jemisin has created, holds no stone walls or traditions that has been standing strong for a thousand years. It is a world that requires change and adaptation and has little patience for nostalgia. It’s wonderfully done and gloriously refreshing (take note, fantasy authors!).
The Fifth Season is the first installment in The Broken Earth trilogy and while being an immensely enjoyable read in its own right, it also does great work as an introduction to the series that leaves me curious about where it will go in the following The Obelisk Gate. Partly because it ends on a cliffhanger, but mostly because Jemisin is currently doing real interesting stuff with the fantasy genre and it would be a shame to miss out on any of it.