By N. K. Jemisin
Paperback, 512 pages
In the Stillness, a land riddled with shakes and blows and hotspots, Father Earth never forgets his hatred for humans. Here, the world ends over and over in periodic Fifth Seasons, winters triggered by seismic events whose effects linger for months, years, even decades. Orogenes, trained by the Fulcrum in the art of manipulating kinetic and thermal energies, feared and hated almost universally, learn to deflect or even stop the shakes and blows as much as possible. But orogenes can’t be everywhere at once. And some orogenes don’t want to stop the destruction. They have other plans for the humans who have enslaved them.
When this Season begins, Essun saves her comm, but can’t save her son—an orogene, like her—from being killed by his own father. Now her murderous husband is missing, along with their daughter. Essun sets out through the ashfall and the end of the world to track him down and commit a murder of her own. She knows, as do other orogenes, that this Season won’t last a mere decade. This one will last a thousand years. This one is how the world ends, for the last time.
The first book in The Broken Earth series, The Fifth Season is absolutely captivating. Even though The Stillness is not a land with which we are familiar, it is enough like our own world that we can picture the landscapes and mountains and coastlines. We can relate to the volcanic eruptions and earthquakes and the tragedies they sometimes bring. The Stillness might well be our own backyard. I could picture the cosmopolitan city of Yumenes and the provincial Tirimo. I could even imagine the island com of Meov, with its salt air and constant hiss of ocean sounds.
Every character is well defined, believable, and irretrievably woven into the story’s threads. Essun’s life unfolds throughout the book in various stages that jump back and forth between “before” and “after” the Season starts. Alabaster, a powerful orogene, develops in a more-or-less linear fashion through Essun’s interactions with him, yet he is still something of a mystery after the last page is turned. Alike in many ways, Essun and Alabaster are also opposites. Orogenes live precarious lives fraught with risk; some, like Alabaster, fracture under the pressure while others, like Essun, are tempered.
Other characters—humans, orogenes or stone eaters—fill realistic supporting roles that come together in complex ways, but it is always Essun we root for. She isn’t always likable, but that just made her more real. Her character develops in ways I didn’t see coming, but which made perfect sense as the story unfolded. At the end, I knew I’d seen only a hint of her power, that she was just getting warmed up.
Rich in detail and narrative tension, The Fifth Season is dystopian fantasy at its best, a masterpiece of storytelling that will draw you in and sweep you away. Jemisin absolutely deserves the Hugo award this book won for the best novel of 2016.