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Review: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (Broken Earth #1)

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The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin // VBC ReviewThe Fifth Season (The Broken Earth #1)
N.K. Jemisin
Published: Aug. 4, 2015 (Orbit)
Purchase: Book Depository or Amazon
Review source: copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Reviewed by: Jannelle

Rating (out of 5): 4.5 stars

The Fifth Season is a story about just that: a fifth season. In a world seemingly like our own but most definitely not, there is an ever-changing landscape called—ironically—the Stillness. In this world, every few centuries there is an apocalyptic occurrence titled “fifth season” that can last decades or centuries.

Ash falls from the sky and the Earth’s inhabitants—humans, Orogenes, and stone eaters—cannot breathe easily and animals, plants, and water will not be abundant or enough for everyone. In between these seasons, Orogenes—people born with certain earth-bound abilities that magically control the Earth geologically in order to help prevent the frequent earthquakes and plate-shifts happening—attempt to prevent the next fifth season by helping to control the environment.

In The Fifth Season, we follow three stories of three different women of varying ages: Damaya, Syenite, and Essun. All three women are powerful Orogenes, strong willed, and deeply complex. In time, their stories are unraveled, miraculously weaving through one another. When we meet Essun, she has just found the body of her toddler on their living room floor, seemingly beaten to death by her husband and she is looking for revenge. When we meet Syenite, she is heading on a mission with an older and more advanced Orogene who she is forced to copulate with in order to make a new Orogene baby for the fulcrum (the scary Orogene compound where most Orogenes are born and trained until adulthood). And finally there is Damaya, born outside the fulcrum to human parents, accidentally setting off her power in a schoolyard.

In regards to romance, there’s only a slight romantic element. Syenite becomes involved in an unconventional relationship (that I will not detail here to prevent spoilers). While there are just a few sex scenes in the novel, they are intense, and fantastically so. For a romance junkie in a scifi world, I was content. I should also say that the romance element is minor because it’s only used as a way to emphasize the lighthearted and happy/carefree time Syenite finds herself in. Aside from that brief period of time in the novel, the romance is no more.

The pace was really where The Fifth Season struggled for me and why the first half of the novel took me so long to get through. Understandably so, I know, because of the uniquely fragile and complex world-building required of first installments in fantasy novels, but, it was still a bit stagnant for my taste. Nevertheless, completely necessary and wonderfully done so as to set up the scene for the next installment.

Honestly, I’m not big into science fiction/high fantasy novels. I have tons in my to-be-read pile at home, but they’re just sitting there, collecting dust. I’m not sure if it’s because I haven’t really taken the time to read any and, for a while, I wondered ‘what if they were not my thing’. But The Fifth Season? It made me aware of exactly what I was missing and suddenly sci-fi/high fantasy is my thing. The complexity of the world-building felt overwhelming at first but came together seamlessly as I kept reading. It wasn’t until I was halfway through that I realized how far into the story I was and how much further I wanted to go.

The Fifth Season, above all, is a story about life and death and what happens in between: the violence, sex, passion, and duty required of us all. Whether you’re into high fantasy and/or science fiction or not, you need to read this novel. As a novice in this genre, I loved and appreciated every moment. I can not wait to read the second installment in The Broken Earth series, The Obelisk Gate.

Sexual content: graphic sex, references to child abuse, references to child violence.

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