The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin
Review by: Dani Long
I was sent a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
The Fifth Season takes place in the Stillness, a world where tecctonic shifts are wildly unpredicatble and has lead to humanity facing extinction many times.
After working at her village’s school all day, Essun comes home to find that her husband has murdered their 3 year old son and kidnapped their 8 year old daughter. While trying to cut herself off from her emotions so that her grief does not consume her, Essun follows after them in hopes that her daughter is still safe.
This summary does not even scratch the surface of what is going on in this story.
On top of this being an emotional ride as a mother attempts to be reunited with her only living child, it is also a story of a world that has turned people into commodities in its efforts to survive.
While this world is rocked by constant tectonic shifts that could at any time upend the lives of everyone living, there are people called orogenes that are capable of moving and controlling the earth itself. But if they ever lose control, they could spark an apocalypse. Because of these powers, they are feared and hated and also seen as a necessity. There is a school where orogenes can learn to control themselves and their abilities, that very school also teaches them that they are less than human.
As you can probably tell, this is not a feel good kind of book. This is a your-heart-will-be-broken-repeatedly kind of book.
In addition to Essun’s story, we also follow Damaya and Syenite.
Damaya is a young girl whose powers have just manifested. Her parents locked her away while waiting for a Guardian to come take her to the Fulcrum (magic school). Through Damaya’s eyes we get to see not only how people are willing to hate even children that have this magic out of fear of them but also how that magic school functions and creates a system where they think of themselves as lesser beings.
Syenite is a full grown orogene who is sent with a more powerful magic-user, Alabaster, on a mission to help a town. Through both Syenite and Alabaster’s story, we see how the world treats the people whose only job is to help them. Not only are they expected to serve a people that hate and fear them and would easily see harm done to them, but they are also expected to debase themselves to perpetuate this system.
Syenite’s chapters were 100% my favorites in this book, I loved the way that we saw her teachings on her place in the world that the Fulcrum had instilled in her be challenged by Alabaster. I loved how much they hated each other but the way that their character relationship grew. I was totally expecting something super cliche to happen between them but it went a direction that was a million times better than I expected and also so much more heartbreaking.
All that said, Damaya and Syenite’s chapters are told in the third person while Essun’s is told in second person. So we have chapters of “Damaya/she/Syenite did this…” the chapters that tell Essun’s story are more “you did/felt this…”
This is not something that I think I have ever seen outside of maybe some flashback chapters here and there. Never before have a seen an entire POV told like this. And I’ll be honest, it was difficult to get used to. Between this and some exposition-y sections at the beginning of the book, I really was not sure that it was going to be for me. But after a while the exposition tapered off (and really it wasn’t that bad to begin with, maybe a page or two at a time) and I adjusted to the second person POV and got really into the book.
And I am so freaking glad that I did. All the tiny struggle at the beginning was so worth it! I am usually that person that has contrary opinions about hyped books but this is one that I am 100% in on the hype for it.
Not only does this book make some powerful statements about how people treat each other, but it is also so beautiful to watch it all come together in the final third of the book. I think that N.K Jemisin took some serious risks with this story and the way it was told and it all paid off in the end because this is one of the best books I think I have read in a while.