The Fifth Season is the first book in a series, The Broken Earth, by N. K. Jemisin. It’s officially categorised as Science Fantasy which sounds about right to me. It’s set on what feels like it might be a far-future Earth but where everything is in a single continent. I don’t know enough plate tectonics to say if we’ll go back to this, but I think it’s unlikely, but we used to have a single continent, Pangaea, which makes me think it’s either not natural (possible) or it might be an alternate history of the deep past.
This continent is ravaged, in whole or in large part, every now and again (typically every few centuries) by a “fifth season” (in addition to our normal four) that is some form of natural disaster. Everyone lives in communities (Comms) that have strict rules and caste systems to help them survive through the next Fifth Season, with instructions that are handed down, almost biblically, in the Stone Lore. Littered around, and largely derided, are ruins of “dead civs” which failed to survive their own Fifth Seasons, including random floating obelisks and the like.
The novel opens with a new Fifth Season being triggered, and the impact of this on Essun, a mother, whose son has just been murdered by her husband who abducted their daughter and took her on the run. As the book develops we learn more of Essun’s back story as a little girl and a younger woman, although as a child she was called Damaya and as a younger woman Syenite (abbreviated to Syen). This is well signalled through the book, so it doesn’t come off as a twist or a spoiler.
With just this, it could be an interesting softish-SF novel, looking the impact of such a world on the characters and society. However, what earns it the Science Fantasy tag is that Essun is an Orogene (or Rogga if you want to be rude) who have some quasi-magical link to the earth and can manipulate minerals and temperature. This lets them quell or cause earthquakes, move rocks, freeze humans (and other life) around them and the like. With control they help make some form of sustainable civilisation workable, particularly in the Midlats.
As the story unfolds, we follow Essun and her chase of Jija and Nissan across The Stillness (the name of the continent) through the start of the Fifth Season and the ravages it is starting to cause. We also see girl Essun as Damaya being trained in her Orogeny and young woman Essun and Syen travelling with the most powerful Orogene known, Alabester on an approved mission after her training is complete and learning more about some of the ugly truths behind the world she thought she knew.
Either element of this story would almost certainly be an interesting read in its own right, taken together they are compelling and vivid.
The second book, The Obelisk Gate as is the third The Stone Sky. I’m currently reading the second book and will review it at some later point.
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