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The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

book cover of The Fifth Season

What a book! I’ll be honest and say that it didn’t grab me immediately – after half an hour, I was less than 50 pages in and felt rather drained after a dry few chapters heavy on stage-setting in a very bleak world. But I persisted, and after that this book came together beautifully. This has been the kind of book that I think about even when I’m cooking or trying to fall asleep. It’s been really good.

For the most part, this book switches between three different perspectives, one of which (Essun’s) is told in the second person, which is a unique choice all right. Like a lot of multi-perspective books, it’s not clear right from the beginning what the connection is between them – and they all seem to be taking place at different times – but by the end they do prove to be closely related as they all describe different stages of the same person’s life, something which got spoiled to me when I got a bit too eager reading other people’s reviews before I’d finished 😒 Anyway, the three story threads each follow orogenes (or, derogatorily, roggas), members of a feared and discriminated-against minority who wield supernatural powers over stone. One, Essun, is a mother whose husband has just killed their son and run off with their daughter, and she races off after him during what seems to be the end of the world. Another, Damaya, is a young girl whose parents lock her in a barn and sell her to some shadowy organisation because they are terrified by her power. And the third is Syenite, a “fourth-ring” orogene who’s given a mentor she finds obnoxious and sent off to do a job, basically as an agent of the government.

It was Damaya’s perspective that really sold me on this book. I adored the dynamic between her and her Guardian, Schaffa. The dark duality of it – the menace and the comfort – was just intoxicating to me every time they shared a page. I think it was the kind of relationship that might even be off-putting to some people, so I’ll warn you of that, but for me it was brilliant.

The world itself was also fascinating – definitely on the dystopian side of things. The known world exists entirely on a single continent called the Stillness, and is under varying degrees of control of a central empire, Sanze, with its capital in equatorial Yumenes. The part that interested me the most was the strict, authoritarian control exerted over orogenes, whose abilities the empire depends upon to prevent civilisation-crushing earthquakes, but who are never trusted – and, in fact, widely hated. The Guardians, a ruthless kind of boarding school called the Fulcrum, and some other (disturbing!) things all form part of this system of control. Syenite and her “mentor”, Alabaster, have a storyline about trying to get out from under this domination and that’s some really good stuff, too.

Honestly it was Essun’s perspective that didn’t grab me so much, which is a shame because that’s the “present-day” one that I think the other books in the trilogy will follow on from. Still, unless the series completely changes tack in terms of what themes it focuses on, I can’t imagine I’ll dislike the follow-up books. There’s certainly a lot that the first book hasn’t quite explained, which I’m sure the next two will dig right into. I’m looking forward to devouring them, too – sooner rather than later!

Books in The Broken Earth trilogy

  1. The Fifth Season (you are here)
  2. The Obelisk Gate
  3. The Stone Sky

★★★★★

photo of Jessica Smith is a left-wing feminist who loves animals, books, gaming, and cooking; she’s also very interested in linguistics, history, technology and society.