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“The Fifth Season” by N. K. Jemisin

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Following the success of her Inheritance Trilogy (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, and The Kingdom of Gods), fantasy author N.K. Jemisin has begun another three-book series, The Broken Earth. The Fifth Season, the first book in the new trilogy, is set in a world where the inhabitants live in a perpetual state of readiness for Seasons, periods of time during which seismic or volcanic activity cuts off sunlight and causes other ecosystem-wide effects.

The worldbuilding in this novel captivated me. Jemisin gives her setting (a world called the Stillness) a rich history and detailed culture that make the story feel more real. One aspect I particularly enjoyed was that each chapter ends with a quote from the history texts or lore of the Stillness.

The story follows two primary characters: Damaya (later known as Syenite), a young girl; and Essun, a woman living in a small community whose son has just been murdered. Both are orogenes, people with an innate ability to stop—or start—the deadly earthquakes that everyone in the Stillness fears. Because orogeny is considered to be dangerous, most people hate and fear orogenes, and some will even kill them on sight. The only way for them to earn even a modicum of social acceptance is to undergo rigorous training to control their abilities at a place called the Fulcrum.

Jemisin’s writing draws the reader into the struggles (both internal and external) that these characters experience, and makes us care about what happens to them. As with the detailed worldbuilding, the complex relationships between the characters enhance the realism and emotional impact of the story.

While the quality of the writing is generally excellent, there’s one stylistic choice Jemisin made that I found a bit off-putting. Essun’s chapters are written in second-person POV. While this can work well for short stories, I found it getting a bit tedious over the course of a novel-length work. However, this didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the book much. Overall, I would say that this is one of the most engaging novels I’ve read in quite some time. While partway through, I pre-ordered the sequel, The Obelisk Gate. Since the last time I ordered the next book in a series before having finished the first one is when I was reading A Song of Ice and Fire, that’s a pretty big compliment.

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