Hello humans! Today I’m reviewing the first of a trilogy lent to me by a lovely friend who read my review of The Shadowed Sun and thought I might like to read these! The Fifth Season is a fresh take on a post-apocalyptic narrative, a complex and powerful book that I wasn’t expecting to like as much as I did.
This is the way the world ends. Again.
Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.
Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.
This blurb already makes the book sound exciting, but it still doesn’t go far enough as to describe all the different things that go on in this story. This is one of those books that could easily have slipped completely into incoherency, but somehow (ok not somehow – it’s good writing) managed to stay afloat. This is a difficult world to comprehend, but because the story and the setting are rooted in very simple principles, it allows you to play around with things like time and character without totally losing the plot.
What are those simple principles? Well if you were to boil it down I would say it’s something along the lines of ‘everyone is constantly waiting for the next apocalyptic event’ and ‘some people have ‘magical’ powers over the earth but they aren’t liked very much’. Those are the basics we’re working with. I thought that the way in which N K Jemisin envisioned a society that was constantly on the brink of extinction was inspired. It doesn’t feel like any other post-apocalyptic fiction I’ve read, and yet it feels incredibly true to what people would do in this kind of situation.
I’m always a fan of untrustworthy narrators and the idea of a biased history, particularly in fantasy such as this. Not only do you have the dramatic irony of the reader knowing, or piecing together, what’s potentially true before the characters do (always satisfying) but it also makes any time the character works something out or is hurt because of this, feel ten times more powerful. The way this book branched out into a lot of different directions and then gradually pulled the threads together was one of the best parts of the reading experience.
I enjoyed the characters in this book. One of the voices used is second person (as in saying “you do this”) which isn’t something I’ve read a lot of, but I think in this case it works stupendously well. The storytelling through the characters is beautiful, I never once lost track of what was happening to which character – something I struggle with in multiple POV stories – but it was still a challenging read, making it satisfying to finish.
I think this book is a great example of an ambitious idea that is well executed. So much here could be too much or too little but the balance of character, setting and plot is just right. Friend, you were right, I needed to read these!
My rating: 5/5 stars
All opinions are my own.
What say you? I know I’m a little late to the party on this one – have you read this? Let me know in the comments below!