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The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth) Paperback – August 4, 2015
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"Intricate and extraordinary."―The New York Times
"[The Fifth Season is] an ambitious book, with a shifting point of view, and a protagonist whose full complexity doesn't become apparent till toward the end of the novel. ... Jemisin's work itself is part of a slow but definite change in sci-fi and fantasy."―Guardian
"Astounding... Jemisin maintains a gripping voice and an emotional core that not only carries the story through its complicated setting, but sets things up for even more staggering revelations to come."―NPR Books
"Jemisin's graceful prose and gritty setting provide the perfect backdrop for this fascinating tale of determined characters fighting to save a doomed world."―Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"A must-buy...breaks uncharted ground."―Library Journal (starred review)
"Jemisin might just be the best world builder out there right now.... [She] is a master at what she does."―RT Book Reviews (Top Pick!)
"The Fifth Season is a powerful, epic novel of discovery, pain, and heartbreak.... It is a novel that demands much of its readers; it rewards them aplenty and is one of those novels that becomes more powerful after deep consideration and subsequent readings."―SFF World
"This is an intense, exciting novel, where survival is always on the line, set in a fascinating, original and dangerous world with an intriguing mystery at the heart of it. I can't wait to see what happens in the next book!"―Martha Wells
"Brilliant...gorgeous writing and unexpected plot twists."―Washington Post
"[A]ngrily, beautifully apocalyptic."―B&N.com
About the Author
N. K. Jemisin is a Brooklyn author who won the Hugo Award for Best Novel for both The Obelisk Gate and The Fifth Season, which was also a New York Times Notable Book of 2015. She previously won the Locus Award for her first novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and her short fiction and novels have been nominated multiple times for Hugo, World Fantasy, Nebula, and RT Reviewers' Choice awards, and shortlisted for the Crawford and the James Tiptree, Jr. awards. She is a science fiction and fantasy reviewer for the New York Times, and you can find her online at nkjemisin.com.
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Even though I enjoy a good Tolkein-esque fantasy, it's so refreshing to read Jemisin's writing, which always takes a fresh departure from the pseudo-medevial-Europe settings so common in the genre. Rather than elves and orcs and plundering armies, Jemisin gives us orogenes (those gifted with the ability to control geological forces), stone-eaters (non-humans who can move through solid rock with their own, mysterious agenda), and a continent that is a greater threat to its people than any army. Whether the strict, caste-driven, xenophobic society that has evolved in response to the environment is a necessary evil or a regime to be overthrown is an argument that will likely span the entire trilogy.
"The Fifth Season" could be considered part of the vein of SF/F that addresses environmental and climate change issues (e.g. Nicola Griffith's "Slow River," Paolo Bacigalupe's "The Windup Girl") but in this trilogy, change is inevitable and largely beyond human control. The book builds toward several narrative twists slowly revealed in its final third; I had picked up on enough very subtle hints to suspect some of them, but they still came into focus with a satisfying emotional "click" that made me glad I waited and didn't stumble across any spoilers. I was so captivated by the narrative that I literally woke up in the night wanting to read more (thanks, insomnia! thanks, book light!). Waiting for the next two chapters leaves me feeling as unsettled as the world of The Stillness itself.
Being such a critically acclaimed darling and widely read already, there's not much my review can add, but I'll throw my few cents in anyhow.
For me this was a 4.5 star book. This is the second N.K. Jemisin book I've read (the other was The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms). I liked this book appreciably more, but there are definitely a few commonalities that I'll just chalk up to the authors style. She seems to favor chopping her narrative up chronologically, and not really explaining to the reader what's earlier or later in the timeline, you just get to piece it together as you go. She also seems to favor some tougher to read perspectives (one of the POV storylines in The Fifth Season uses 2nd person, which is not so common, but I thought it worked well in this context). Lastly, she's not an author that spells out all the twists and turns of the plot, again, the reader is left to infer and piece things together. I thought this was much more effective in The Fifth Season than in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
This book did have fair amount of made up words. You will pretty much catch on to all of it by context, but it's a little disorienting at the start of the book when they come in fast and furious. For those reading the ebook edition (like I did), it may be helpful to know there's an index at the back of the book. As usual, I only found it when I was done. One day I'll learn to check.
Quick plot overview without getting into spoilers - this is a dystopian novel, set on a far future Earth. The continents have been smashed together again and the world is menaced by extremely active tectonic shifts and the resulting hot spots/volcanoes. The titular "Fifth Seasons" happen when a massive natural disaster occurs (volcano/earthquake) that impacts life over most or all of the continent for a long period of time (anywhere from six months to hundreds of years) - impacts can be acidic rain, famine, fungal blooms, crop extinction, etc. There's an index of the various Fifth Seasons at the back of the book as well.
The narrative revolves around people in this world with an extra ability to control the earth (specifically seismically, in quelling or causing earthquakes/tsunamis/volcanic erruptions). These people are called orogenes (politely) or roggas (informally/derogatorily). In the current timeline, an empire called Sanze controls most of the continent. At the capital of Sanze, there's a school/training facility called the Fulcrum. The Fulcrum is designed to train/control orogenes.
In philosophical themes, the book gives you a lot to chew over and think about in regard to the true meaning and results of slavery and freedom and the intention of actions and the results. The book also touches on race (a lot of comments will note the description of most of the population reads as African or Asian) and sexuality (there is a gender fluid character as well as some bisexuality and a three-way, sort of, relationship).
The book is most certainly dark, but worthy of reading. There are several instances of abuse centered on children which always seems harder to read and a few grisly deaths as well as some mass death events. The world of The Fifth Season is a harsh one. There was not a lot of humor to lighten this book up but it was nonetheless an engaging read that left you with something to ponder.
Edit: I finished this book several months ago but I'm still thinking about it. Added an extra star for the narrative's lasting power.
As the story begins, a new season commences. A man causes the earth to split, directly under the capital city, spewing forth ash and debris, and sending off shock waves which quickly spread across the earth....or at least that portion its residents know about.
We meet Stone Eaters--part human, part rock, who can dissolve into the earth; and Rogga, who can harness the power of the earth itself--causing (or quelling) earthquakes, splitting rocks, and unleashing (or capping) volcanoes. To ensure that Rogga do not abuse their power, there are Guardians, tasked with keeping the others under control. The rest of the populace is lumped together as "Stills," who just try to eek out a living in this crazy world.
The narrative cuts back and forth in time, making the sequence of events murky, focused on one young woman Rogga's life.
The set up is great, but I felt the story dragged. The timeline mixing felt more like a gimmick to make up for a lack of narrative tension, rather than a useful part of the story. This is the first of a series, and while I am invested enough in the characters to know what happens next, I am not sure it is worth wading through another volume to find out.....but maybe.