Title: The Fifth Season
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Published: August, 2015
A season of endings has begun.
It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun.
It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.
It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.
This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.
Characterization and badassery
Fighting skills aren’t much of a thing in this book but a group of people called orogenes have all kinds of exciting and interesting powers. These abilities are presented as a biological evolution of the species as a result of environmental stress. That makes this a sort of sci-fantasy, in a dystopian world with limited technology. An interesting combination.
The story is told through three storylines, which intentionally fragments the story. Characterization is a bit lacking because the focus of the story is the mysterious three-way narrative, rather than the characters themselves.
Plot and pacing
There are bits of different plots that I’ve seen from other stories, but they’re all woven together in a unique way in The Fifth Season. Jemisin has a lovely way of making macro things happen – global issues – while also winnowing those events down and filtering them through individual people. That’s probably my favorite element of the book, and it’s masterfully done.
Since this is a story told in three narratives, it takes a long time for not that much to happen. We’re constantly moving around in time and location, so we’re getting more of these different perspectives than we are of things actually occurring. This makes the pace slow in places, especially when a great deal of time is spent in describing a scene’s setting.
Prose and editing
I’m a fan of Orbit books. They’ve turned out a lot of titles I’ve enjoyed, and they tend to be on the cutting edge of the industry in terms of new ideas and innovating. This book has all those elements, but it also has a few more proofreading errors than I’d have expected to see from such a polished imprint.
Noooo. This book is a downer, plain and simple. Everyone suffers. There’s no break in the torture, abuse, and poverty. It can really feel oppressive sometimes. I like dark stories, but my personal preference is for having the darkness is tempered by hope and occasional levity. Those who love really dig a good, harsh dystopia will adore this.
A lot of people have been really bowled over by this story. I’m somewhat more mixed in my feeling because of my personal taste. I appreciate that the author embraced a lot of ideas. The majority of people are some shade of brown, and I love to see that. They have glorious textured hair that are worn in locks or just natural. There’s also some polyamory, done in a sensitive and relatable way that shows that love comes in many varieties. And there are people in hard circumstances making even harder choices, which is always compelling.
On the other hand, I missed feeling like I really liked the characters, which I didn’t, because I didn’t feel I knew them. The story ended on a cliffhanger too, which is a huge pet peeve of mine (personal quirk–I know a lot of people don’t mind them). I also felt like there were elements left too unexplained. I noticed a glossary in the back, after I’d finished the story. D’oh. (Note to self: Always check the back for a glossery first.)
But for a book to rub a number of my preferences the wrong way, and still have me like it so well is kind of a big deal. I enjoy being challenged by books, and something that continues to come back to me after I’ve read it, as this one does, proves that it’s quite the worthy work.
“The tone soothes, and some part of her craves soothing right now. But his words keep her on edge, stinging like sharp glass fragments amid smooth marbles.”