When the world ends three weeks later, it happens on the most beautiful day Syenite has even seen. The sky is clear for miles, save for the occasional drift of cloud. The sea is calm, and even the omnipresent wind is warm and humid for once, instead of cool and scouring.
We’re a bit late to the party, but we’re finally reviewing N.K. Jemisin’s Hugo and New York Times Notable- winning fantasy.
Title: The Fifth Season
Author: N.K. Jemisin
First published in August 2015.
In a world with single continent and multiple upheavals—possibly our earth in the distant future, and after multiple apocalyptic events—the Sanzed Empire survives by harnessing the powers of orogenes, who have the ability to control various energies. Being born magical doesn’t give you a place of honour, however, or even a closet under the stairs; orogenes who aren’t killed out of fear and hatred are strictly controlled by the powers that be, brutally educated, and selectively bred.
Damaya, an orogene child, is taken from her people for these purposes.
Syenite, a powerful adult orogene, becomes part of a mission that goes awry.
Essun, an orogene and mother, heads in angry pursuit after her husband, who has killed their son and abducted their daughter.
The oregones, powerful but oppressed, used for their abilities and tightly controlled, suggest a number of real-world situations without becoming overly didactic. We’re not dealing with literary representatives of larger issues, but credible humans who inhabit a dark, but not hopeless, world.
The novel’s second half becomes quite gripping and the narratives cohere.
After a shocking opening, the book’s three narratives unfold slowly, as Jemisin devotes pages to building a world called the Stillness. Jemisin plans a trilogy; for much of this novel, it’s hard to ignore the fact that you’re reading an extended opening act.
Originality: 4/6 Jemisin presents a different take on de facto magic…
Imagery: 5/6 …and the Stillness, scarred by apocalyptic events and seismic upheavals feels distinct from past fantasy realms, even other grimdark ones.
Story: 5/6 The story may develop slowly, but its plots cohere impressively. In the hands of a lesser writer, the novel’s central twist could have become a trite gimmick. I still wish The Fifth Season felt less like a backstory, but I also acknowledge the story might improve with rereading, or as a part of the entire trilogy.
Emotional Response: 5/6
Editing: 5/6 Jemisin’s writing style deserves the plaudits she has received; the plotting could have been tightened in the first half.
Overall score: 5/6
In total, The Fifth Season receives 34/42