I feel finished with the Hugos. The absolute disaster that has surrounded the Hugo Awards for the last two years has turned me off the entire award ceremony and I do not have the patience or the time to dig through what is happening any longer. As such, I ignored all the winners of the Hugo awards in the past year and treated the books as if they hadn’t be lauded for their excellence… a move that has turned out to be a huge mistake. The Fifth Season, by Nora Jemisin, was the ‘Best Novel’ award winner of the Hugos last year, and regardless of whether or not the Hugos are a sham these days, it is a really good book.
The Fifth Season is the first book in The Broken Earth trilogy, and it starts off strong. The book tells the story of an Earth that frequently experiences extinction level natural disasters, called fifth seasons, that tend to kill most of the humans left living on the planet. The humans have becomes ruled by necessity, adapting their lives to the sole purpose of surviving. The majority of fifth seasons come from enormous tectonic activity on the planet’s surface, causing earthquakes and ash falls that crush and smother everything in their path. The good news is that a small portion of people (orogenes) on the planet are born with the the magical ability to bend the earth to their will and control quakes and disasters. The bad news is that these individuals can sometimes be wildly out of control of their powers – creating more danger than they prevent – and have to be placed into essentially slavery to ensure the continuation of the species.
Our journey follows three protagonists, Essun, Syenite, and Damaya – three orogenes who are surrounded with different circumstance. Damaya is a small child who is discovered to have powers and demonstrates the fear, terror, and danger the earthmancers create around them. Syenite is a fully trained and accomplished orogene of the establishment who is sent out on missions and is currently being forced to breed with another powerful orogene to produce useful children. Finally, Essun is a rogue orogene – on the run from everyone – and simply trying to hide and live with her children and escape persecution. Each of these characters helps bring to life Jemisin’s world and do an incredible job establishing it as a living breathing thing with a lot of grey areas when it comes to morality. Jemisin hits the sweet spot where she has created a world clearly driven by necessity, but her world building doesn’t feel like it is just going for shock value.
The Fifth Season’s strongest asset is its prose. Jemisin has a once in a generation voice that is masterful in its storytelling. I love books that play with perspective well, and this certainly qualifies. The story is told in the form of a conversation, as if the book is talking with you. It creates this strange and intense feeling of connection with the characters and had me incredibly immersed right off the bat in their stories. The book is also incredibly diverse, with characters of all ethnicities, genders, orientations etc. The book manages to have something for everyone without feeling like it was written just to meet a diversity quota, which I really enjoy.
My one dislike for The Fifth Season is that the conversation style writing could sometimes make me feel like I was missing key plot points and that things were going over my head. However, this is much more a function of me needing to take the time to read close than poor writing. I found the plot so exciting and compelling that I rarely wanted to slow down to closely examine things. I sense that a reread of the series would be greatly rewarding.
The Fifth Season likely would have been in my top 3 in 2015 (possibly even #1) had I read it that year. The story and world are fascinating, the characters are fantastic, and the prose creates a unique and unforgettable experience that I can’t wait to have more of. I feel that Jemisin is likely one of the best writers of the current generations, and that everyone should check out this book. The Quill to Live ecstatically recommends The Fifth Season.
Rating: The Fifth Season – 9.5/10