The Fifth Season
(Broken Earth Trilogy, book #1)
Published August 4th 2015
It’s been a while since I’ve read fantasy. Strange really, since I got into fantasy before I got into Science Fiction. Obviously Harry Potter played a role in that, but the boy wizard’s adventures weren’t my only taste of fantasy. Magician by Raymond E. Feist was one of the first more adult aimed books I ever read, and I quickly begun exploring the world of Midkemia. I read The Lord of the Rings books, some Shannara books and The Eyes of the Dragon was my first Stephen King book. However after a while fantasy started to feel a bit samey and I lost interest. Therefore, I wasn’t really that excited to read The Fifth Season.
But I am so glad I got to read this book. This wonderful book that I wouldn’t even know existed without the Hugo Awards.
At first glance, The Fifth Season seems to have a lot of the familiar, but it also feels very new, very different, and very awesome. This story takes place in the ironically named land called The Stillness, which constantly has earthquakes and volcanos causing trouble. It is ruled by an ancient empire and the social structures are based on Comms; walled towns designed to be able to survive on their own during the frequent apocalyptic events (so frequent they’re called fifth seasons) that plague the land. The landscape is littered with the remains of dead civilisations and while there is technology such as electric lighting, it is a rarity.
Already you can see The Fifth Season isn’t your standard fantasy world. To top it off, the craft that went into this story is also unique. There is a strong, intriguing narrative voice and a large portion of this book is told in the second person. Yes, second-person, the perspective favoured by the choose-your-own adventure books. “You are she. She is you. You are Essun. Remember?” This takes a bit of getting used to, but I advise you to stick with it; the story is well worth it.
The Fifth Season follows three characters with an ability called orogeny. Orogeny is a magic power that can control the earth. People with this ability – called orogenes – can use these powers to cause earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or stop such geological activity. As you can expect, regular people are terrified of these powers and resent the orogenes. However, in a world plagued with earthquakes, such powers are useful. One of these orogenes is Essun (that’s you, remember?) who lives in the present, during the current fifth season, and then we also follow two other orogenes living in the past, under the control of an institution called the Fulcrum. The Fulcrum exists to use orogeny in a safe, useful way, and to control the orogenes in any way possible.
By now you may be getting the feeling that this is a pretty sad story. It is. In this story, Jemisin shows exactly what prejudice looks like. Children are rejected and abused by family members for being orogenes, adults with this power are not allowed basic freedoms, and the Fulcrum has a number of ways to break the orogenes it employs.
This book is dedicated to ‘those who have to fight for the respect that everyone else is given without question’. The orogenes are not a fantasy culture counterpart of any particular group in reality, but their oppression shows the many ways prejudice affects people in our world. I love the way this book tackled oppression and prejudice, even if it was absolutely tragic at times.
This book also features a few LGBT characters, including a transgender character. I mention this because despite the number of LGBT people in the world, we don’t get to see them too often in fiction, and I love when such characters do appear. A polyamorus relationship is also depicted quite well in this story. There were a few sex scenes, so if that isn’t your cup of tea, then be warned.
It’s hard to find much wrong with this book. It’s thought provoking, written in a unique and engaging way, with an interesting, fleshed out world and amazing characters. It’s a book where you have to be really paying attention, but it rewards you greatly for doing so. A lot of times things aren’t really explained, but you can figure out what is happening through the context. This was exactly what I needed after reading Seveneves. However, I should point out that The Fifth Season is book one of a trilogy, and does not wrap up the story completely. In fact, it leaves it on a cliff-hanger with much unresolved. Book two in the series – The Obelisk Gate – will be out in August and I will be grabbing it as soon as I can.