Most everyone loves consuming media about the apocalypse, whether it is in the form of zombies infesting the Earth or nuclear fallout. The back of NK Jemisin‘s The Fifth Season reads:
This is the way the world ends…for the last time.
A season of endings has begun.
It’s an intriguing statement that immediately sets the mind to wondering just what she means. At least, that was my initial thought process when I received the book as a gift a few short months ago.
World of The Fifth Season
Basically, The Fifth Season refers to a catastrophe of climate change that assaults the Earth every few hundred years. There are supervolcanoes, tsunamis, acid rain, and other natural disasters that occur. Animals even change to become more fierce and out for human blood.
However, it isn’t our Earth that is changed. The novel takes place on one huge continent called the Stillness. In my opinion, Jemisin is not making a statement about the deteriorating climate of our world. Instead, she has created another place where the insane weather is the inhabitants’ reality. Jemisin’s worldbuilding is extremely expansive and thought out. There are many important elements to understanding the rules of the Stillness.
First and foremost, the most important characters in The Fifth Season are orogenes. These people can manipulate energy. Even an untrained orogene can effortlessly move mountains. They can also cause and prevent earthquakes.
Every fantasy story needs a monster and orogenes take up that mantle. They are widely feared and hated by everyone and often referred to as “roggas.” Orogenes refer to non-orogenes in turn as “stills.” Humans often fear what they don’t understand and even doubt that orogenes are human.
Jemisin does a fantastic job of highlighting the relationships between the many factions of humanity in the Stillness. The rules are very clear and detailed exquisitely throughout the narrative. The way she describes the powers and how they work paints a crystal clear picture for the average reader. Very little is left to the imagination.
What it does right: Point-of-View
The Fifth Season opens on a chapter told in second person point-of-view, which is pointedly unsettling as it is not a common choice in storytelling. However, every chapter jumps between different characters, told from different perspectives. It isn’t as quite omniscient as works such as Lord of the Rings or A Song of Ice and Fire, which can be too complex to keep up with. But it is a breath of fresh air in comparison to the likes of Harry Potter, where the reader’s understanding of events is frustratingly limited to Harry’s perspective.
Content Of A Sexual Nature
Another aspect of The Fifth Season that was a bit surprising to me at first was its use of sexual content. Typically texts either focus heavily on sex and violence or not at all. This novel strikes an even balance but does not shy away from detailing the gruesome. I must admit at some points I was a bit put off, I am a prude I must say. However, the rawness and reality of Jemisin’s subject matter made it all worth it.
She does not merely include sexuality in her novel to be a spectacle. Instead, it aids in creating a fleshed out universe. She does not gloss over or over-explain the topics of homosexuality or transgenderism when they appear in her story. They are acknowledged and commented on as much as they should in their context but aren’t widely accepted or condemned as much as orogenes are in the Stillness.
I like that she included these topics fluidly into The Fifth Season because often authors like to either ignore them or make them the focus of their works. Jemisin mostly gives them visibility without passing judgment, which is what I admire.
Many themes appear throughout The Fifth Season. The most apparent to me are oppression, freedom, and morality. Jemisin is a black, female author, so it is unsurprising that these are some of her focuses on her writing. In fact, she is the first black author to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel, an award given to the best science fiction or fantasy works of the previous year.
Specifically, the struggles that orogenes face reminded me of the plight of slavery and the lasting effects it has on contemporary society. The manner in which Jemisin is able to articulate the different aspects of cultural conflict can be appreciated by all readers. She continues to do so in the following two novels, which she also received Hugo Awards for. She is the only author with that particular feat under their belt.
The Last Thoughts
I immensely enjoyed reading the breakout novel of the Broken Earth series. It was everything and more of what I look for in a new series to read. My one gripe would be that after the first book, a lot of the plot is still shrouded in mystery. However, I’m looking forward to finding out what Jemisin reveals next in The Obelisk Gate! TNT is also adapting the novel into a television show.