The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
Narrator: Robin Miles
Series: The Broken Earth #1
Published by Hachette Audio on August 4, 2015
Source: Purchased
Genres: Science Fiction
Length: 15 hrs 27 mins
Pages: 468
Format: Audiobook
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four-stars

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.

The Fifth Season is an amazing book. It’s set on a post-apocalyptic earth that’s plagued by constant seismic activity. This leads to frequent near-extinction events called “Fifth Seasons” that keep people always on alert. The evidence of past civilizations litters the planet — ruined cities, incomplete ‘stonelore’ handed down from earlier generations, and strange obelisks that float through the atmosphere. The Sanze Empire has survived for centuries by harnessing the power of orogenes — people born the ability to control their environment. The orogenes can stop earthquakes or start them. They can save cities, or draw power from living creatures and “ice” them. Their powers are terrifying but essential such a volatile world, so the empire develops a caste of Guardians who have the power to neutralize the orogenes when necessary. The orogenes are held in contempt and called “roggas” by ordinary humans. Despite all their power, they cannot control their own lives. They are either hunted down and destroyed or sent to the Fulcrum to be trained and used by the empire. They are property more than people.

The book follows three women, each with her own outlook. Essun is a middle-aged woman whose husband has killed their young son because he was an orogene. Essun is now searching for her husband who fled after the murder and took their daughter with him. Damaya is a girl who realized she was an orogene after an accidental attack. Her parents call the authorities and she is going to be taken to the Fulcrum. Syenite is a young woman who has lived the majority of her life at the Fulcrum being trained. She has four rings, which signifies her power and her privileges, but she is assigned to have a child with the only person alive who has ten rings. The Fulcrum wants the child in the hopes that he/she will be very powerful and very trainable. Eventually, we see how all three women’s stories connect.

First the good things. The world-building is wonderful and vivid. the world has an intricate history, but we’ve never lectured about it. The writing is clear and touching at times, and interesting, especially the portions that are somehow both second person present tense and omniscient. The characters are diverse. The storylines are interesting. It’s about family and trust and love. It’s also about oppression and fear. It’s a good book.

But the ending just annoyed me. Yes, I know this is a first in a trilogy. Yes, I know there’s a lot of world-building to do and a lot of characters to introduce, but give me some kind of resolution for this book. Yes, make me want to read the next, but don’t make me feel forced to by not “finishing” this one. The ash is still falling, the daughter is still missing, the “madman” still wants vengeance.

The Fifth Season is original and thought-provoking. The question now is, do I go read the second? I’m still not sure. Do I care enough about the characters?

About N.K. Jemisin

N(ora). K. Jemisin is a New York Times-bestselling author of speculative fiction short stories and novels, who lives and writes in Brooklyn, NY. In 2018, she became the first author to win three Best Novel Hugos in a row for her Broken Earth trilogy. She has also won a Nebula Award, two Locus Awards, and a number of other honors.

Her short fiction has been published in pro markets such as Clarkesworld, Tor.com, WIRED, and Popular Science; semipro markets such as Ideomancer and Abyss & Apex; and podcast markets and print anthologies.

She is a member of the Altered Fluid writing group. In addition to writing, she has been a counseling psychologist and educator, a hiker and biker, and a political/feminist/anti-racist blogger.

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