N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season caused quite a stir when it was published, culminating with a Hugo award for best novel in 2016. Having finally gotten around to reading it, I can see why.
This is superb. It’s also quite difficult to talk about because the intricacies of the plot make it far too easy to accidentally give away plot spoilers, which is probably why the GoodReads synopsis is so vague:
This is the way the world ends…for the last time.
A season of endings has begun.
It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun.
It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.
It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.
This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.
This felt like a very dense story to me. There is so much going on here, and it’s intricately constructed in such a way that you can never quite see what is coming next, until it happens at which point it feels inevitable. That said, I did have a genuine “Oh” moment when the various plot strands started coming together allowing the full picture to emerge.
The world building also deserves a mention for showing the sort of attention to detail that made Frank Herbert’s Dune so memorable for me. Everything fits and it’s all shown to us naturally as the characters progress through the world of the Stillness. There are no info-dumps here, and the strength of Jemisin’s writing is such that none are needed.
With The Fifth Season, N.K. Jeminsin has pulled together several familiar fantasy tropes (far future, dying Earth), added her own original vision and twisted it all together into something utterly unique.
Now I must rush out and get The Obelisk Gate.