Damaya has been discovered by her family to be an orogene, a person who can wield a very special and dangerous kind of magic. Her kind are mistrusted by nearly everyone in society. If they aren’t shipped off to the Fulcrum to be trained and controlled, they usually end up dead at the hands of their neighbors. At a young age, Damaya is forced out of her home and in to the care of her Guardian, Schaffa, who is tasked with keeping her safe but also eliminating Damaya if she becomes a threat to the people around her. Syenite is an young, up and coming orogene at the Fulcrum who has already earned four rings out of a maximum possible ten. She is tasked with clearing out coral from a harbor town under the guidance and mentorship of a cantankerous ten-ringer named Alabaster. Along the way, Syenite learns that there is more to orogeny and the world than she ever dreamed possible. Essun is a middle-aged women trying to blend in and not be discovered as an orogene. That all changes when a massive earthquake hits and causes a Season, a period when the world’s systems shut down due to the aftermath of the quake. But maybe there’s a way to put an end to Seasons once and for all.
Jemisin is the absolute master of world building and exposition. In The Fifth Season, she creates such a detailed world just in the first few pages. We learn as much as we do about this world by living in it. Jemisin presents the main characters through events that should be mundane but instead are rich introductions to the important people and places in The Fifth Season. What adds to the richness of this world are the short quotes from historical texts that accompany the end of each chapter. Each quote serves either to provide historical context for what has occurred or to foreshadow what is to come.
And let’s talk about this magic system. Holy cow, this is so cool. Orogeny is the ability to sense and harness kinetic energy. Most orogenes (people who can perform this orogeny magic) turn this power to earth’s crust and use their ability to sense and stop earthquakes. But Jemisin doesn’t stop there. Throughout The Fifth Season, the characters explore and learn more about their skills than they were initially told was possible. Throughout the exploration and discovery, Jemisin maintains a consistent system. No new use of orogeny ever goes so far outside of what was previously established that it feels like a deus ex machina. It all works seamlessly.