BLOGGER ON BOOKS (2020) – The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemison


After reading N. K. Jemison’s The Fifth Season, I think “rusting” might be my new favourite curse word. I don’t know why this perfectly benign, in my world, word became the f word in a world where there is also the f word, but it feels natural and organic to the world of the story. And I’m here for it. In The Fifth Season, Jemison effectively and believably builds a world that, while very different from our own, it’s not a stretch to imagine exists in some parallel reality. In this world, there are people with the special gift of literally moving the earth, and because they are so feared they are rigidly controlled from childhood-up by the state. They use other world-based words for these things but that’s what it amounts to.

Imagine giving birth was a super power and, because people are threatened by this, the state pursued policies that control women and their reproductive rights… … …you get the idea.

The story runs along three parallel, character-driven tracks: one involving a girl being taken from her family to the boarding school/prison for people like her, for training; one involving a young and talented woman who is sent out on assignment with a new, more powerful, jaded mentor and sexual partner (assigned, not by choice);  and one focused on a woman running from the life she tried to build but which came crashing down around her when her powers were discovered, who picks up a rag tag road crew along the way.  What connects these three women is one of the book’s mysteries and who exactly are the stone people and what do they want.

The landscape is, depending on the storyline being followed, a tightly controlled, fascistic society; an island where people live free and make their living through piracy; and a dystopic world where fellow humans can’t be trusted and there are human eating animals. Obviously I love the island setting as an island girl myself; so one of the funnier bits for me was the main character in that timeline’s trepidation when she lands on one because, to her, islands are death traps, one shifting fault line away from a tsunami. Which, I mean, sure but it is still, in the book and in reality, one of the more idyllic settings. The Fifth Season is part one of a trilogy (the 2015 Hugo Award winning science fantasy novel, the first time an African American had won in the best novel category, is the first volume in the Broken Earth series –followed by The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky, both of which also won Hugos, if you’re wondering what to get me). It sets up future drama while giving you a full story, satisfyingly bringing the three plot threads together by book’s end – I kind of predicted the how of it but still the story was far from predictable. The world feels like none I’ve ever seen and it is startlingly rare in fantasy fiction for Black characters to be centred just as people (or, at all).

The book handles its shifting tones well – a certain sex scene comes to mind. It really works because of how well the characters have been defined. Oh and the writing is delicious. “And what do they even call this? It’s not a threesome, or a love triangle. It’s a two-and-a-half-some, an affection dihedron (and, well, maybe it’s love).”

The Fifth Season took me a long time which is not a sign of anything but my inability to find time to just read as I mentioned in a youtube readathon.

I enjoyed this and would happily continue the trilogy.

This was an audio book. You know I struggle with those.  This one was okay, especially with the female voices; Alabastor, the main male, doesn’t quite sound in the audio book like I picture him but it didn’t put me off too much. The production values were good and the story was just that interesting. One thing, because of the so much that was new about this world, I’m sure there are things that I missed; I picked up new things every time I had to rewind because I lost my place or my focus. So I imagine reading the physical book I’d pick up even more. But overall I enjoyed The Fifth Season.

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