- my rating: 4.5 stars
- published by: Orbit
- genres: high fantasy, science fiction, apocalyptic
- diversity: black queer main character, trans main character
This is the way the world ends. Again.
Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.
Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.
You know those books literally everyone won’t stop talking about? This is one of those books. And I admit the hype fully terrified me. I thought there was no way this book could live up to the magnitude of praise it receives (literally EVERYONE I know has loved this book. But somehow not only did it live up to the hype, it managed to surpass it.
I’ve been in a real bad fantasy slump. I adore fantasy, it’s always been my favourite genre. But recently I’ve felt like I haven’t got the thrill and spark from it I traditionally do. This book changed that, and reminded me why I love the genre so much. For that I am so so grateful.
The Fifth Season takes a little bit to get moving, but when it hits it’s stride it is truly un-put-downable. N.K Jemisin throws us straight into the Stillness, a world that experiences semi-regular apocalyptic events. At the beginning of this book, the end of the world is starting, but this apocalypse is looking to be a lot worse then the previous ones.
The thing that is difficult about this book to start off with, is that it throws a lot of terminology and action at you with little explanation. Also, there’s a second person, present tense point of view which can take a while to get used to. You’re forced to sink or swim very early on. But if you persist the meaning of everything is revealed and the pay-off is enormous.
The Fifth Season follows three main characters: Essun, a woman who’s son has been murdered by her husband, and is now trying to find him and her missing daughter. Damaya, an Orogense (magic user) taken by the Guardians to learn to control her abilities and Syenite, a level four Orogene who is sent on assignment with Alabaster, one of the most powerful Orogene’s alive.
I really liked how N.K Jemisin interwove these characters stories and gave each their own unique development. At first I didn’t like Essun’s chapters, because they’re in second person, but they soon became really interesting and I didn’t even notice the tense.
Syenite was my favourite character, and her storyline with Alabaster was also my favourite. I loved that this book mostly followed strong women and also that there was a large focus on diversity within this world. Fantasy is notorious for being unrepresentative but N.K Jemisin’s world is very inclusive. I will note, most of the trans characters are revealed to be trans in undressing scenes, and trans reviewers have said this is not always the best way to write trans characters.
N.K Jemisin does an amazing job at making you CARE about these characters. As the story continued I found myself more and more invested in their lives, and my heart BROKE when certain things happened to them. I also think these characters have a lot of depth and potential, and N.K Jemisin presents characters who subvert tropes and explores multiple sides of various characters.
Finally, I have to say there is a romance in here that KILLED ME. IT KILLED ME DEAD. This is a polyamorous relationship and oh my god ,, I loved it so much.
As previously mentioned, The Fifth Season has a really complex plot, but once it gets into it’s paces, it’s super hard to put down. The worldbuilding is very detailed, but it’s also incredibly interesting, and explained in a way that makes sense once you get the hang of it.
I think my favourite thing about this books plot is it had the traditional “oh my god” moments that I love about fantasy plots. This book is twisty and clever and original and that is all the things I adore about fantasy.
One thing I loved about the plot of this book was the subversion of the typical magic user trope. In this world, magic users are the oppressed class in society. This felt very different to typical fantasies, and I liked how N.K Jemisin was able to create a dichotomy between the power of these people, and the hopelessness of their situation. It was interesting how Jemisin constructed this power relationship and for me was one of the most intriguing parts of the plot/world.
I genuinely think N.K Jemisin has come up with such an innovative and unique plot line, and this made my appreciation for this book grow a lot. I think we all get tired of seeing certain plots reused but N.K Jemisin made everything fresh.
I am so glad I decided to read this book, and I can’t wait to read the sequel. This is one of the most fun, and innovative, books I’ve read in a long time. And it fully restored my faith in the fantasy genre.
N.K Jemisin is definitely an author to look out for, and if you’ve been thinking of picking up this series I highly recommend you do. It’s just as good as everyone promised, and probably better.
until next time!