Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Review: THE FIFTH SEASON by N. K. Jemisin

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

This book is a darker fantasy in a post-apocalyptic setting where the world “ends” every few hundred years during what is called a Fifth Season. In the prologue, we learn that “this is the way the world ends, for the last time.”

The Fifth Season starts off mid-story and throws you into the characters’ lives without giving a ton of context, so you really have to pay attention and figure out what’s going on by yourself because the characters don’t tell you about connections that would be obvious to them or how the magic works, etc. Part of me was begging for explanations of things that I still don’t fully know, but the other part of me loved how natural this technique was because it felt like I was dropped into their world. I liked having to figure things out for myself, and having the glossary at the back (that I didn’t discover until halfway through the book) was also much appreciated!

My favorite part of this book was the magic system. We have orogenes, people who can use orogeny, which is a seismic-based ability to manipulate the earth’s crust and cause or still earthquakes and move tectonic plates. This book takes earth magic to a whole new level that I’ve never seen done before and I can safely say will never be surpassed because the depth given to the abilities here is utterly stunning.

Orogenesis is a real thing, so it’s awesome to see the people called orogenes, because that word actually makes sense in real-world terminology. Orogenesis is when the earth’s crust is compressed to form a mountain range. Knowing about tectonic plate movements and verbiage before starting this book would actually help you because the magic is based on real-world earth science. There was a paragraph I came across where the characters were talking about what was happening to the earth, and I had to define four different words because I didn’t know if they were real or made up for the story. They were all real, all sciencey words I’ve never heard before. I love that I’m learning about real scientific concepts while I read a fantasy novel; that is just plain cool.

We have three main characters: Damaya, a child; Syenite, who’s in her twenties; and Essun, who’s in her forties. Essun’s chapters were told in second-person point-of-view, which I know some people don’t like, but I love second-person stories so I was happy to see it in this book. It’s a little jarring at first because it’s unusual and not like the other POVs here, plus you don’t know who the narrator is, but I loved it nonetheless; I didn’t think it felt unnatural or stilted at all, and by the end I didn’t even notice anymore.

This is a character-driven story. I normally prefer plot-driven stories but I still thoroughly enjoyed this one. Syenite was my favorite to read about, probably because of her relationship with Alabaster and just because her chapters weren’t as dark as the other chapters. Being a character-based story, we really get to see the theme of systematic oppression that is prevalent throughout the book. This is a real-world issue that we see demonstrated so well in a fantasy setting, and it’s another reason why this book was as good as it was.

The Fifth Season was an incredible and important post-apocalyptic science-fantasy story. I loved the dark setting of a literal broken earth with all the obelisks floating in the sky. I loved the tectonic and seismology–based magic system that I’ve never seen done before. I’ve always enjoyed learning about geology and rocks so this book fed that interest in a way I didn’t know I needed. I loved the characters, even if I didn’t always love what was happening to them. Basically I loved this whole book. The reason I didn’t give it a full five stars was the ending got a lot darker than I was anticipating, and some things happened that made me so sad. This is an emotional book, that’s for sure. I can’t wait to jump right into the rest of the series.
“Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall; Death is the fifth, and master of all.”

Now for some SPOILERS: 

I predicated about a quarter of the way through that Damaya, Syenite, and Essun were all the same character at different points in her life. Each is female and an orogene, and them all being one would explain the time hops. I noticed clues for this throughout the story once the thought was in my head, and I was happy that my predictions came true. It didn’t ruin the twist at all for me guessing it beforehand.

What I didn’t guess though was that Tonkee was Binof. That seems obvious now but for some reason I just didn’t put it together earlier.

What I would like to know is how Essun and the other orogenes are able to sense how long a Season will last. On page 274, Essun says, “This season will last centuries,” but how does she know? And what factors determine how long a Season will last?

On page 150 we read, “they do not notice what’s missing” in the sky, and I had the constant question about what was missing (which I could have deduced but was apparently dumb enough not to notice). Then the last line of the book, from Alabaster: “Have you ever heard of something called a moon?” That’s it, that’s what was missing. And he’s right, there were no mentions of a moon in the story. I’m very curious how this will play into book two.

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