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My best friend read the whole Broken Earth trilogy by NK Jemisin a while back and she’s been begging me to read the books so I can scream alongside her. I finally got around to reading The Fifth Season for a book club I found on Instagram and oh. my. god. It might be too on the nose, but I was shooketh.
In Jemisin’s world, the Earth constantly undergoes apocalypses. Every fifth season kicks off with a cataclysmic, natural disaster. Some comms survive while others don’t. Through it all are the orogenes: individuals with special powers that allow them to manipulate the Earth’s energy. They can help quell quakes, shift land, feel fault lines, etc. It’s honestly hard to give a proper summary of The Fifth Season without delving into the other aspects of the novel, so let’s get into it.
Damaya is found by a Guardian, Schaffa, who shows her kindness at first. She’s eager for warmth as her family reported her to the Fulcrum, the school for orogenes. But Schaffa’s love and affection comes with conditions. He quickly shows Damaya that when she disobeys him, he will hurt her. He tells her he does it out of love, and she believes him, because she is a child starved for love. The dynamic between them clearly illustrates an abusive relationship.
Syenite is a sarcastic young woman sent to complete a mission with a ten-ringer (the highest level for orogenes) named Alabaster. They get to a rocky start, but soon Alabaster opens Syenite’s eyes to the truth of the Fulcrum and the world. Their relationship leads Syenite to question what the Fulcrum taught her and her place in the world.
Together, Syenite and Alabaster face and evade adversaries and eventually leave the Fulcrum. They end up on an island with a community that lives on the fringes of society and end up in a polyamorous relationship with a pirate named Innon. This is one of the great examples of how Jemisin’s writing naturally incorporates nontraditional relationships and normalizes sexual fluidity.
The book starts with Essun’s narrative (the you POV) as she mourns her dead son, killed by her husband. She embarks on a journey to seek him out as he stole their daughter away too. Along the way she meets Hoa and Tonkee, unlikely allies that reveal the world is not what she thought.
Jemisin makes the reader care about the characters, no matter how small a part they play or how short a time they appear. There’s also a sense of excitement when many of the characters come full circle as she brings their stories together.
The Fifth Season World Building
Jemisin’s novel hinges on the world building. While action sequences take place, they don’t drive the story. The details of the way orogeny works captivate and fascinate. The way orogenes are viewed and treated in this world act as a direct metaphor for the enslavement and treatment of BIPOC in real life. Society even has a derogatory term for orogenes – rogga.
The language Jemisin created for this world stood out among the many incredible aspects. Many sci-fi books often create in-world slang and specific vocabulary. It doesn’t always make sense or flow organically. But Jemisin created a linguistic pattern so natural that it never felt like a foreign language for readers.
Education and history also play a major role in the world building. Every class in society receives their history and education from stonelore. This is reminiscent of the tablets of the 10 Commandments from the Christian Bible. When Alabaster tells Syenite some tablets have been destroyed or worn down, it indicates history is not as definitive as the schools teach. This creates a parallel to real life and the call for decolonizing our own education.
Rating The Fifth Season
This deserves a solid 5 out of 5 stars. An absolutely lush and mesmerizing world. Incredible writing. Dynamic characters and relationships. It has everything.
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