The Fifth Season is the first book in a trilogy by N.K. Jemisin, it’s so very good and so very hard to push through. The book starts with an incident that essentially sets the tone for the whole novel. I am definitely waiting, with impatience, for the next one though.
The book follows three different story lines throughout this strange fantasy world called The Stillness. This world suffers from frequent seismic activity leading to what the people call Seasons, periods of time where there is acid rain, or the sun doesn’t shine, or the weather turns frigid. Humanity has learned how to survive during these harsh times, but in many ways these seasons reduces humanity to their basic and worst instincts. People are valued for what they can do during a potential season, and not really simply for being people. There is also a subsect of humanity, a small group of people, born with the power to control the earth. In the society we’re presented with, these people are feared and hated, the characters we follow are all in this subset.
At the start of the novel a man, one of these earth workers called Orogenes sets into motion a terrible, civilization ending Season. The novel delves into both the after effects and the reasons for this seemingly crazy action.
The book starts with the brutal murder by beating of a two year old child, and it really doesn’t relent from there. This book should come with all the content warnings. It is full of rape and abuse of all stripes. And yet, I never once felt that it was gratuitous nor intended to titillate. There are a few times where it’s told in such a manner that the reader is guided to draw a conclusion as to what happened instead of laying it out. This has the effect of making it more horrifying without going into territory that could be seen as exploitative.
The world building is phenomenal. This is a world with a deep history and you can sense that. I feel as though it’s a history of eons, and I love that. The civilization our characters live in may be only a few thousand years old, but I can sense that the world itself has a history much longer then that. And humanity on this world is much older the that. There’s also the way Orogenetics works. While I’m not a scientist, my poor memory of geology from college is telling me that it makes sense. I can tell the research that went into this novel, without feeling like Jemisin is showing me her research and not telling me a story.
Oh, and I wanted to add, this book contains so many varied genders and sexual orientations in such an offhand manner that I was really impressed. Very little is made of it, but Jemisin makes it clear what she’s referring to.
I will mention that there are sections of the book written in second person. I think it’s done well, but if that kind of experimental story telling bothers you, you might want to pass. Otherwise, yes read this book.