Season after season the Earth is hit with cataclysmic events: volcanic eruptions, massive earthquakes, a mining accident. These events cause shifts in the continent(s) and climate events that alter the earth’s ecology again and again. These events and their aftermath are called Seasons. The Fifth Season is a generic term for an extended winter of more than six months caused by a large scale environmental alteration. There are no vehicles, no internet, no fossil fuels. This is the backdrop for the stories of three women: Damaya, Essun and Syenite. They are orogenes, people born with the ability to sense the earth’s shifts and tremors. They are able to control them and change them by channeling their own energy to the earth. This causes a freezing around them which can kill those within range. Orogenes are thus feared and killed once discovered, often as children.
The stories of Damaya, Essum and Syenite are told separately. Damaya is a girl whose parents have rejected her. She is living in the family barn when a Guardian takes her away to be trained at the Fulcrum. The Fulcrum is a military style organization that trains and controls orogenes. Fulcrum trained orogenes are the only people that are permitted to legally practice orogeny. Guardians have the ability to control orogenes which they exercise with brutal force.
Syenite is a Fulcrum trained orogene. The highest recognized level of skill is 10 rings. She currently holds 4 rings. The Fulcrum assigns her to 10 ringer, Alabaster, to travel to Allia to remove an obstruction in its harbor. Their partnership does not begin well. She is savvy in the politics of the Fulcrum which he despises. Through her journey with Alabaster she begins to understand how the Fulcrum control and exploit orogenes.
Essun’s story begins with her discovering that her husband has killed her 4 year old son who was an orogene. Her husband has taken her daughter, who is also an orogene, and run from the village. She sets out to track them down, even as a fifth season has begun, with a steady fall of ash covering people fleeing their villages (comms).
There is so much to the world created in The Fifth Season that it takes a while to absorb it all. The Earth’s geology impacts its inhabitants every day. The Earth’s crust is constantly moving and shifting. Creatures called stone eaters have surfaced. After centuries of cataclysms the world is tribal and mean. People are wary of “others” who can be identified by different hair, skin color, language. Add obelisks that hover in the sky whose origin is entirely unclear, and there is plenty to digest in this novel.
I am looking forward to reading the other books in this trilogy. The complexity of it all is fascinating and at times confounding. As in so much speculative/fantasy work it isn’t for the feint of heart. The story is bleak, even as it tells us that out of the destruction of the world, new life emerges.