Thursday, August 11, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: The Fifth Season (Broken Earth, #1) by N.K. Jemisin

I almost gave up on N.K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season while reading the first fifty pages but, encouraged by the extremely positive reviews (rated over 4.3/5 by 7500+ people on Goodreads) and widespread critical acclaim (nominated for multiple awards like the Nebula and Locus) I persisted, and I'm very glad that I did. (This was not the case with Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which I gave up on rather quickly several years ago, and I don't regret that decision. That being said, having previously given up on a book of hers probably made me want to give The Fifth Season the benefit of the doubt. That and the fact that she, like me,  is on the side of the good guys in the Puppy brouhaha over representation in speculative fiction.)

The story follows three characters, Damaya, Essun and Syenite as they navigate their lives in a world which is accustomed to regular cataclysmic disasters, called a "Season." The world has gone through four of these events so far (each of which has been slightly different) and when the story begins it's not that obvious if the current situation is bad enough to be a fifth Season or not. The occurrence of catastrophes is so regular that the populace is always on edge, and prepared to flee at a moment's notice.

Related to the fact that earthquakes (called "shakes" in the book) occur so often is the existence of orogenes, people who have the power to manipulate the energy found in nature around them to move objects, freeze or heat the air and generally disrupt the world around them. One side effect is that without control, an orogene can remove all the energy from the volume of space "near" them, which can be fatal to anyone too close to the orogene. For this reason they are feared and hated by most civilized people, and hunted and controlled by another group called Guardians.

By following the stories of a young inexperienced orogene (Damaya), a mid-level orogene (Syenite) and an older, experienced orogene (Essun) the reader gets a multifaceted view of Jemisin's society, which is engrossing and diverse. The book is told via interspersed chapters following Damaya, Syenite and Essun (similar to George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire and James S.A. Corey's The Expanse.)
I particularly liked Damaya's story the most and particularly looked forward to reading her chapters. I also appreciated the inclusion of an openly gay main character in the book (and there's a bisexual character and a transgender character that play pivotal roles later on). I was not prepared for the somewhat explicit sexuality between these characters, but it was handled well, and it was a plus for me. There is also clear descriptions of hair and body types which make it clear that the vast majority of the characters in The Fifth Season would be racialized as non-white in our world. And that gives me another way to connect with the book. That being said, although I was very interested to see where the story goes I was not actually enthralled with the book as a whole--it misses some elements (humor, suspense, wonder, that "wow" factor), but it is a well-written and intriguing read.

Overall, I'm glad I read The Fifth Season and I'm looking forward to reading the next two books in the The Broken Earth trilogy. The second book, The Obelisk Gate, is coming out next week, Tuesday August 16, 2016. (You can read the first chapter for free!)

Title: The Fifth Season.
N.K. Jemisin.
Paperback: 468 pages.
Date Published: August 4, 2015.
Date Read: January 26, 2016.

GOODREADS RATING: **** (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A-/B+ (3.58/4.0).


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