I get really excited when I read a book and think, I have never read anything like this before. I had that thought many times as I read N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, the first in Jemisin’s The Broken Earth series. I was less invested in the characters themselves than I was in the book’s daring, unpredictable plot and the thoughtful, meticulous descriptions of the world that the characters inhabit.
When the book opens, the unnamed narrator tells us, “Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things” (1). The narrator’s casual, even flippant tone, captured me from the beginning, as did his/her descriptions of the land that the characters live on: the Stillness. According to the narrator, “It moves a lot this land. Like an old man lying restlessly abed it heaves and sighs, puckers and farts, yawns and swallows” (2). Aren’t those two amazing sentences?
It turns out that it’s difficult to summarize the plot of a book like this when different timelines take place in various chapters of the book and the chapters don’t follow a chronological order. There are characters who appear, disappear, and re-appear, terms that characters use which are mostly explained only in the Appendix at the end (i.e. strongbacks, use-caste, Sanzed), and phenomenon that sometimes the characters don’t understand yet, so the reader doesn’t either.
But if I wanted to reduce this sprawling, magnificent plot to one thread, I would say that when the book opens, Essun’s husband, Jija, has killed one of their children and kidnapped another, all because of who they are. Essun’s efforts to retrieve her daughter and exact revenge for her murdered son, Uche, are complicated by the fact that something has set off a major earthquake in the North of the Stillness, an earthquake that will destroy the world and everyone in it “For the last time.”
Genre-wise, this book is a dystopian; coming of age; science fiction/fantasy; mystery; adventure epic. If you want to be more clued in to what’s happening from the beginning of the book, check out the Appendix, which offers definitions of many of the terms mentioned—and which I didn’t locate until I was several chapters in.
I loved how intricate and bold this book is and how diverse its characters are. It seemed to me to be a very inclusive dystopian novel (see other genres listed above), and I really appreciated that. The Fifth Season won the 2016 Hugo Award and received major props from many prestigious publications, and it deserves every one of them.
This book seems to me one that will provoke extreme reactions, and I can see some of my friends not enjoying it. But if you enjoy the genres that I detailed above—or just want to read something that takes huge risks—check this one out. I think you will be wowed.
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