The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin
Book 1 of the Broken Earth trilogy
Just like I said in my blabber of Foundryside posted the other day, I was very late to this train, and very mad at myself for waiting so long. I buddy read this with my irl friend, and we both adored it (and are both neck deep into book two at this point).
I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like this book before.
I’ve read a lot of fantasy during my thirty years of being a human, and have experienced more of it through video games and tv and movies and whatnot, but this world is definitely a unique one.
This book is set in a world that keeps ending, and it follows the characters trying to live in it. There are three main points of view in the story, each located at a different place on this continent riddled with earthquakes and volcanoes and other apocalypsey kinds of things, and it tells the story of their lives.
In this world are creatures who eat stone, giant obelisks that hang out in the sky – forgotten relics of civilizations past, and people who can sense the earth moving under their feet. All three perspectives are such people. When earthquakes happen, they can quell them with their abilities, or make them worse.
The story sets up an interesting social hierarchy, placing these earth-sensers, orogenies, in a lower tier of people. They’re valuable, as they can stop an earthquake from demolishing a great city, but they’re also seen as less than. Between them, the stone eaters, the people who can’t sense the earth, and the Guardians – a group of people whose task it is to monitor the orogenies, a political undercurrent is created and fuels a large part of the story, on top of all the world-ending catastrophies.
I really enjoyed the social commentary this book provided. It touched on humanity, on respect given and received, and what happens when that isn’t balanced. The narrative from all three perspectives touched on this in different ways, each one interacting with an aspect of this established social hierarchy. I found it interesting and compelling.
The writing as well, was very readable. This was another one that I read my target number of buddy read pages each week in one sitting. I just couldn’t put the thing down. The first chapter opens in a jarring way: the world is yet again ending again outside – screams and earthquakes can be felt and heard, but the pov character is inside her house, and her world is already ending in a different fashion. Her son lays dead in her arms, murdered by his father, who has fled with their daughter.
That’s how the book opens, with that scene of many worlds ending at the same time.
And honestly it made me fall in love with the book right away. The pov is written from second person, which makes the scene all the more jarring and the more captivating. The narratives from the other perspectives were just as submersive. As the story progressed and we found out more about orogenies, the social system, and the geographical instabilities of the world, the more I was completely enraptured.
The back of the book has an appendix in it as well, as the narrative mentions multiple previous world-ended events in passing. It was fascinating reading about all of them. Each apocalypse is called a Fifth Season. And really, what sounds more interesting than an apocalypse known in the history books as ‘The Season of the Teeth’?
This book was just so fascinating. The stone eaters were neat, the orogenies were neat, how people lived on the land was neat. The social dynamics that evolved due to the constant barrage from the earth was neat. It was all just so neat.
The characters themselves, while I wouldn’t always call them ‘likeable’ were very believable. I don’t think the main characters were written to be entirely good or evil, but were written to be human – there were all sorts of gray decisions these characters made, either motivated through personal desire or through necessity. The back drop of a chaotic planet only made the potentially powerful decisions that more necessary.
So overall, this book was awesome. So awesome that I’ve run out and grabbed the next two in the series and plan on reading them right away (already in the second!) My buddy reader and I both loved this book, easy five stars. My expectations for this one were a bit high, considering it won a Hugo when it came out (and then so did its sequel the next year and then so did its sequel the year after that, which is unprecedented) and I gotta say, it totally lives up to the hype. This is a fantastic book.