This was my second attempt at reading this book. I picked it up not long after it was first published, because I have read previous books by N.K. Jemisin (The Inheritance Trilogy, The Deamblood Duology). I really liked The Inheritance Trilogy, but I couldn’t finish the first book of The Dreamblood Duology. So, I was skeptical about The Fifth Season. I had read the sample, and decided it wasn’t really for me. As time went by, and the book racked up all kinds of praise and awards, so I decided to give it another try. I can definitely see why it has received the praise and awards that it has. For me, I liked it. Mostly. Well, maybe more than mostly. I’m still a bit unsettled in my opinion.
Its hard to talk about the book without spoiling it, so this will be a pretty brief review. There are three points of view (POV)- Damaya, Syenite, and Essun. Essun’s POV is told in the second person narrative, which is what put me off the first time I tried to read this book. I don’t like second person narratives, (although you don’t see them very often) and I will reluctantly read first person narratives. I think the story of Essun was told beautifully, but I found myself more interested in the stories of Damaya and Syenite, which are told in the third person. That’s my own bias clouding my judgment, of course. The story as a whole was compelling enough for me to want to get to the end, so I did. And I’m glad I did.
The story takes places in what seems to be Earth in the far future. There is one supercontinent referred to as the Stillness. There are different castes, and everyone belongs to a caste. The orogenes are those who can manipulate the earth and weather around them by taking in the earth’s energy. The orogenes are feared and reviled. Some are killed on sight, others are kidnapped or sold by their families to the Fulcrum, which trains and controls the orogenes. So of course, our protagonists are all orogenes.
Essun is on the search for her husband, who killed their son and kidnapped their daughter. Damaya is a child who is discovered to be an orogene, and is sold to the Fulcrum by her family. Syenite is an orogene at the Fulcrum. The best part of the book is discovering how the stories of these three women relate. This is also a story of being “other”- and being controlled, ridiculed and denied your humanity because of it.
I did have a hard time relating to the world. There is not a lot of exposition, so you are left to discover the world on your own though the actions and dialogue of the characters. I like a little more exposition that what is offered here, but I do realize that too much exposition can become clunky and can take you out of the story. By the end I knew enough to get what was going on, but I wish I had more background. This wouldn’t make sense from Essun’s POV since its in the second person, but I think Syenite’s POV could have been the place to add that.
I didn’t really take to the magic system. I may be more of a traditionalist when it comes to magic, but I appreciate the uniqueness of the system here, and how it fits into this world. The world has had such catastrophic natural events, and continues to go through devastating natural disasters every hundred years or so. It makes sense that any magic within this world would be tied to the earth.
This review is a little all over the place, because I’m a little all over the place with this book! However, I will read the second book in the series, The Obelisk Gate, to see if I can get more settled in the world. I definitely would recommend giving the book a try. It is written beautifully, as I would expect from N.K. Jemisin.