I have never been so happy with a new author as I have been with N.K. Jemisin. Everything I’ve read from her has been absolutely phenomenal. I did not expect The Fifth Season to be so good, but I cannot begin to describe how great it was.
N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season is a story about the beginning of the end of an age. It is about surviving the destruction of civilization. However, in the midst of all this, this is a story about a woman searching for her child, a student doing what she needs to become a master, and a child forced to become something that others do not consider human. This is a story of transformation.
The first thing I noticed when I began this book was the inclusion of a map. If you’ve read my review of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, you will remember that that was actually a complaint of mine. Maps make the story a little bit more tangible, and that’s something that the Inheritance trilogy lacked. Of course, it helped that most of The Fifth Season is spent traveling, while the Inheritance trilogy was spent mostly in Sky/Shadow. Still, it would have been nice to have a diagram of the city and the Arameri castle.
I also appreciated the world building that went on. We are made aware that Fifth Seasons are considered cataclysmic events that cause an outrageous number of casualties to human life, not to mention the amount of civilizations that get destroyed in the process. I loved that there is a particular set of oral and written history passed down to help people survive it. The novel makes a point of telling you, in the beginning, that people never look up, and then ends with the question, “Have you ever heard of something called the moon?” I think I died in that moment, because I couldn’t even remember if there was ever mention of the sun.
And everyone has their place in this civilization. Every community, or Comm, has several different use-castes – societal classes of inherited traits that correlate to the job you can do – to help them run smoothly, especially in the event of a Fifth Season. Even the Orogenes, who are most likely to be killed in any Comm at any time, have a place – if they are able to be collected in time. Even their non-Orogene children have a job to do. A very sick and twisted job, but at least they’re not left out.
I like that this story is being told to us from three different points in the main character’s life. We see her as the child, Damaya, the young woman, Syenite, and the mother, Essun. At each point she knows loss because of the stigmatism of her powers: Damaya loses her family and freedom, Syenite loses her semblance of normalcy after life in the Fulcrum, and Essun loses her children. At each turn, she gets up and keeps moving forward. At each turn she learns something new about the world around her.
A lot of people talk about how Jemisin writes good fantasy, especially fantasy about people of color, but I rarely ever hear people talk about how she writes LGBTQ characters. She has a well-developed gay male, a transgender female, and a bisexual male. And there are a ton of fringe characters that you won’t care about, because they don’t interact with Damaya/Syenite/Essun as these three do. I was really surprised by the transgender character – who was an entirely too curious little girl that later stalked Syenite/Essun as a grown woman – because, up until this point, I had never been exposed to a transgender character, much less a developed one. The closest thing I had come to it is the gender fluid Nahadoth from the Inheritance trilogy.
I have said before that Jemisin writes sex as a thing that happens. It’s for pleasure or procreation; any other attachment is purely on the individual. And I love Jemisin for it because there’s no stigma there. Jemisin loves to take gender roles and throw them out. Syenite is the one to have the child, and she’s a perfectly fine mother, but the nurturing one is Alabaster because he had never gotten the chance to be a father to his other children.
This story does not shy away from child death, please be warned. It’s not horribly constant, but it’s very poignant.
In any case, you should all read The Fifth Season. You may not agree with the sex scenes, but there’s not enough of them to cause an issue, nor are they focal points. You should read it because you love good Fantasy. You should read this because Science Fiction Fantasy is on the rise. You should read this because you’ve heard so many good things about NK Jemisin. You should read this because it’s really good.
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