The Fifth Season by N.K Jemisin - A Review
Let me preface this with saying, I was gifted this book for my birthday by my sister’s boyfriend, who upon giving it to me said (and I paraphrase, my birthday was a few months ago now) -
This book was written for you. It has everything you love - strong female characters, homosexual love, fantasy worlds, magical abilities. I read this and I thought of you.
Boy, he was NOT wrong! It’s full of everything that holds my interest in a story, and then some! The characters are intriguing, the plot is riveting and the worldbuilding is just amazing. There are so many things I want to say about this tale of epic proportions that I think the best way to express my thoughts on this novel is through a classic pros and cons list!
Worldbuilding - in-freaking-credible. Jemisin has created a world much like our own - except it’s riddled with earthquakes and shakes. There are ‘mutants’ or ‘magical beings’ who can quell these shakes, but can also cause them. They are oppressed by humans. Classic humans. (Side note: in perfect irony, they call their land ‘The Stillness’ when it’s anything but!) Jemisin has also decided to call the earth “Father Earth”, rather than “Mother Earth”, an interesting choice which reflects her decision for three main woman, the men in their lives play a smaller part in the overall plot. By switching the persona of the earth, Jemisin has switched the image of ‘angry, over emotional’ women onto the men who insist on these characteristics.
Characters - Three fierce women, all at different ages, stages and circumstances are the main protagonists of the novel. Each of these women have the ability to quell and cause quakes, two of whom are trained and work for the ‘guardians’ - other people who have the power to take away their connection to Father earth. The third is living among humans and has to hide her true identity from her community and husband - and the true nature of their children. They each have their struggles, hardships and small moments of happiness. Ultimately, what ties them together, is their motivation to break free of their confinement. The institutional, cultural and societal boundaries are put in place by humans to oppress and subject them into submission, to make them as harmless as they can. However, these three ladies see this is wrong and want to change their fate, and the fate of their kind. They want their freedom.
Plot - It starts with a massive rift in the earth and the incantation - “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” - and a sombre notice “this is not a happy story”. And yet, as the plot unravels and more is revealed about the characters, the world and their journeys, you still get sucked in and hope for the best. As the world is crumbling around them, they are striving to survive. One is surviving for the sole purpose of revenge, another is trying to survive her training and the third is trying to survive her mission. Without giving too much away, the plot thickens as the novel goes on, and the twist is a good one!
Relationships - Unlikely bonds form, old acquaintances are reunited under dire circumstances, and a beautiful love that defies “social norms” occurs throughout this book. I want to say so much more about this relationship but I can’t seem to put it into words. They really find happiness in the darkest of times. Please, go read it and fall in love with these characters and their loveable and eye-opening relationship! It’s refreshing to read.
Fantasy World - At first glance you think this world is made up. It features three distinct ‘types’ of humans and is set in a world where ‘seasons’ are used to describe natural disasters rather than recurring changing weather. However, after you get a bit of history of the world, it makes you think - is Jemisin writing about a post-climate change earth? One that is riddled with quakes, tsunamis, volcano eruptions and “seasons” which wipe out majority of humanity. Is this an apocalyptic future? You begin to think this as she states “Father earth was not always angry” - does she mean there was a time of peace before humans destroyed the very thing that gives them life? Either way, this aspect is intriguing and well worth a discussion with fellow readers.
Confusing - The world/language/explanation of the different types of humans is a bit confusing at first. The language used to describe the ‘mutants’ and their counterparts - the guardian's - abilities is a hard to grasp at first. However, I tried reading this novel half asleep on a long haul flight to London and found myself so lost I had to stop reading and take a nap instead. (But that might have been my own mistake - should have taken something lighter to read).
Second and Third person narration - One of the main characters is written in second person “You are her. She is you. You do this, you do that” which is quite jarring at first. The other two characters are written in third person so when the chapter begins with “you are doing this” it can take you out of the story. By the middle of it I was used to this and ended up finding it quite enjoyable!
There’s so much more I want to say, but I don’t want to give it away! If you are in need of a new fantasy recommendation, I highly suggest picking up this book!
It seems I’m not the only one who loves it. The Fifth Season won the 2016 Hugo Award for Best Novel and the sequel The Obelisk Gate won it in 2017. Not a bad feat for an author. N.K Jemisin was the first African-American author to win a Hugo Award for Best Novel and to win it twice in a row is incredible! Her storytelling ability deserves this recognition and I am so happy she is getting it! With her third, and final novel in The Broken Earth trilogy, The Stone Sky published earlier this year, could she take home the prestigious Hugo Award for a third year in a row?! Only time will tell!
Not to mention, The Fifth Season is being turned into a TV series! I always have mixed feelings about screen adaptations of novels but I am interested to see how they make this world come alive.
I’m now off to read the next two novels in the series, which just arrived on my doorstep! *excitement overload* BRB - need a tea STAT.
Jordan is an avid bookworm who loves nothing more than to curl up with a good book and a cuppa. When this romantic setting eludes her, she can be found writing to-do lists, scheduling, binge-watching tv shows and/or fantasising about what book to read next. She is a freelance editor and proofreader.