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.
Ratings: ☕☕☕☕☕ 5/5
Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we? Get it over with and move on to more important things.
There are many great, well-known fantasy books that have a strong engaging narration, incredibly realistic and powerful world building, heartbreaking plot twists and characters so unforgettable that you can’t help but be emotionally invested in them as if they were real, all written with such skill and perfect execution that you are transported into a time and place far far away from the reality you live in, which is exactly the reason why you read fantasy in the first place. To discover a world unlike any you know.
Then there’s The Fifth Season.
This book, written by the brilliant mastermind N. K. Jemisin, is a book that will make all the other fantasy books you have ever read seem shamelessly mundane and unoriginal, because it is not limited to magic, otherworldly creatures, oppressive monarchies and heroes with ambiguous morales. No, The Fifth Season is a book that shows that there is no such word as limitations when it comes to fantasy and what makes it stand out even more is how it takes the world and society we live in today, flash forwards into a few thousand centuries, and shows us the future we are setting up for ourselves if we don’t start changing the present. If there was ever a thing as “The Guidebook for The Future”, then this book would be it.
Writing: I could gush for hours about how brilliantly this book has been written, but to keep this review from turning into a rant, I will only say this: I have never read a book with such perfect worlding building as this. The world of the Stillness (aka future Earth) is extremely realistic, and the writing was executed perfectly with very logical reasoning combined with Jemisin’s limitless imagination. The narration itself was something I have never experienced before–the story is told through three different timelines featuring three generations of women: a child named Damaya, a young adult named Syenite, and a 30-something mother of two named Essun, but the actual narrator of the story itself remains a mystery until near the end of the book, and believe me when I say it will come to you as a shocking surprise. And let’s not forget how skillfully the writer tells Essun’s story in second person narrative, a technique that should have made it difficult for me to connect to the character but somehow didn’t.
Plot: There is much happening in the world of The Fifth Season. Set in a post apocalyptic future where we have misused Earth in the name of science and technology to such an extent that our planet is now constantly in a state of rebuilding every few centuries through violent series of earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions, The Fifth Season tells the story of the people of the Stillness, of how they have reorganized civilization and society to survive on a planet that wipes out all living things through a season of epic natural disasters. Astronomy is considered pseudo-science because really who cares about what’s happening in the sky when so much can happen on the ground, and architecture is only of use if you are making earthquake-resistant, tsunami-resistant buildings–anything that is relatively decorative or is purely for aesthetics, even simple structures like bridges and balconies, are symbols of stupidity and arrogance.
Amidst all this, Jemisin brings a race of mutated humans, called orogenes, with the power to control, create or stop shakes and tsunamis, all of them suffering from the prejudices of a society who misunderstands them, and from the oppression of the cruel, power hungry Sanzed empire, who all but enslaves them. There is the ruthlessness of human nature that surfaces when the Fifth Season begins, when you are only acceptable based on how useful you can be, to the point that highly selective breeding is practised to ensure that the future generations can be more resilient, and if you are not deemed to be useful then you are discarded and left to die. There is politics, and secrets, and histories rewritten or destroyed to maintain control in a society that is always experiencing chaos.
And then she brings humanoid, but inhuman creatures–stone eaters–who share planet Earth with us, and who seems to take an interest in us, but for what purpose, no one yet knows.
Who misses what they have never, ever even imagined? That would not be human nature. How fortunate, then, that there are more people in this world than just humankind.
With all of the above happening, it is needless to say that there is a lot of potential in this book, and not only Jemisin taps into that potential, with every page and every incident that occurs she makes you think. This is a book that won’t just give you entertainment, but will make you ask questions about what we are doing in our society in the present, and what we will be leaving behind for the generations to come.
Characters: While I wouldn’t really gush about the characters of this book the way I would about some of my favorite YA characters like Elias and Laia from An Ember In The Ashes or Kestrel from The Winner’s Curse, I felt for the characters in The Fifth Season, be it sweet little Damaya, angry Syenite, broken and vengeful Essun, bitter Alabaster, even the mysterious and strange Hoa, I cared deeply about them, because their experiences–some of which were simply harrowing–and the way they deal with those tragedies, will bring out varying degrees of rage and pain and pity in you. This is a book where the characters will fill you with the feels, because the emotional core of the book lies in the things these characters go through.
Another thing that I loved about the cast of characters in The Fifth Season is the diversity of the characters here. We have people of all ethnicities and sexualities here, and what I found particularly clever was how Jemisin used the laws of selective breeding to show how each and every race has unique values that, for the context of this book, are essential for survival. I felt it was a very clever way of showing that what makes people from different regions unique from each other is also what makes us special, and beautiful for different reasons. And in a time when diversity is being a topic of heated debates, N. K. Jemisin shows how easily one can represent so many ethnicities and cultures and sexualities, and how important it is to do so.
The ending of one story is just the beginning of another
The only thing that I have to say about the ending was that it was absolutely perfect, with all loose ends tied up, and setting the stage for a much bigger story, one I cannot wait to read.
Needless to say, if you haven’t read this book yet, you really really should. Trust me, you will thank me for it.