The Fifth Season
N. K. Jemisin
Review By Debbie Phillips
The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin is a Hugo award winning novel, which takes place on a planet with a single supercontinent called the Stillness. Every few centuries, its inhabitants endure what they call a "fifth season" of catastrophic climate change.
I wanted to start, in true schoolroom style, with ‘This book is about…’ but I couldn’t finish the sentence. It’s about so many things. Survival. The horrific things people do to each other. Endings. Who gets to be a whole person. Who doesn’t. Loss. Who you let define you. Love. How societies function. Beginnings.
There’s a lot going on, is what I’m saying.
This is an amazing world – brilliantly realised, and always just enough information to keep you grounded and allow you to understand what’s going on. It’s a world that’s tectonically unstable, constantly on the brink of destruction. Certain people – orogenes – are able to sense and control the movement of the earth. They are both valued and hated. Life revolves around constantly being on the alert for a Season – an apocalyptic event, which can take several forms – and the preparations necessary to survive them.
We follow three viewpoints throughout the book. Essun, who is grieving. Damaya, a child who isn’t wanted. And Syenite, who is an orogene, trained to obey and be a tool of the leaders of Yumenes, a city that has lasted through many years by virtue of its location in a more geologically stable area. All three women are rounded, complex characters, as are the people they encounter. It’s an incredibly rich world, brimming with history and detail.
What I really liked about this book is that it leaves you to do a certain amount of the work yourself, and because the world is so immersive, you don’t even notice you’re doing it. There’s so much to make you think – issues like gender identity, slavery, and the reliability of history all feature, making you question your assumptions along with the characters.
It’s a book with a lot of darkness. There are some truly horrific events in this book, the kind of thing that makes you hope you’ve misread something. But there is lightness too, so you’re not completely overwhelmed.
The prose is gorgeous. Jemisin writes beautifully and accessibly, sucking you right in and not letting you up until the end. I can’t wait to read the sequel and find out where the story goes.
The Obelisk Gate
N. K. Jemisin
Review By Kris Vyas-Myall
Sequels come with advantages and risks. On the one hand most of the setup is out of the way. You have read the rulebook, understand many of the troubles and triumphs. You can now play on the board without much confusion. However, you are no longer able to have as much joy of discovery and the more you try to replicate the closer you get to seeing it as just a painted wooden board and metal counters.
This balances a middle line well between the two. It opens up more mystery of the world without moving out of the fantastical, but concentrates predominantly on the human reactions to the disastrous situations. This makes sense both from a storytelling perspective and a meta-thematic one as we are watching a world that is being destroyed by natural disasters but, if it is to be saved, it is by the choices made by the individual actors being put together here, those that have the power to really make a difference.
Looking back on The Broken Earth Trilogy so far, the things I remember most are not so much the plot but themes and moods and dramatic scenes. For the soundtrack for this is not high octane modern classical or pop-rock, this is very much new age elemental pieces. Songs of earth and fire and metal. This story is one that is much broader and deeper than what you can usually get on the page. Whilst what is actually happening is in itself fascinating, what it means and how it makes you feel is even more important. Jemisin has an absolute gift for dialogue and can create heartbreaking and profound moments in only a few words, what is going unsaid and the way in which it is spoken is both fully on display and even more meaningful than what has been spoken. Even when some of the details of the story begin to fade, the beautiful arresting images she has created continue to stick in my mind.
The ideas of prejudice are strong in this novel and the Black Lives Matter inspiration becomes even more prominent than in the first book. For example, when Jija talks to her Daddy about loving being an orogene, in spite of his reactions and feelings on the subject, it is heart breaking, watching her slowly have to come to terms with his self-deception and hatred.
The conclusion to the story is one where many people make decisions which on the one hand seem horrific but on the other hand are perfectly understandable as we are led upon their journey. As we move into the final part it will be fascinating to see where the story goes next. I am sure it will be harsh, mind bending and yet beautiful, like a Broken Earth.
The Stone Sky
Review by Kris Vyas-Myall
This finishes the Broken Earth Trilogy, the most interesting book series of the decade. So the first, and most obvious, question is does it manage to land the ending? The answer is a resounding yes.
Probably the most surprising development in The Stone Sky is how easy this was to follow in spite of the complexity. This is still just as experimental and layered as the previous two installments. However, as the story comes to a crescendo I felt myself as fully a part of the world understanding the strange workings as just a part of life.
The pace also refuses to let up. The Broken Earth and The Obelisk Gate did such a good job of building up the world that the slow thoughtful explanations are no longer necessary, we are allowed to move at speed counting down to the main event.
The themes and ideas explored throughout the trilogy continued to be refined and brought to a satisfactory conclusion.
All this to say, the whole series seems to be deserved to be seen as a truce classic of the genre and to be read for years to come.