The Fifth Season (Broken Earth Trilogy, book one)
by N.K. Jemisin
read in September 2018
This is a spoiler-free review!
This is the way the world ends. Again.
Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.
Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.
For almost two years now, I’ve been too intimidated to pick up fantasies. Though there are plenty I’m interesting in reading, I’m scared of the world-building and commitment, considering they take me much longer to get through than contemporaries. That said, because everyone has been raving about The Fifth Season, I finally decided to read it, and I’m glad I did!
Just like most readers, it took me a while to get used to Jemisin’s world-building. You are thrown into it without many explanations. Even after finishing this novel, there’s still a lot I don’t understand. Geography was one of my least favourite school subjects, so many of the fantasy elements were lost on me.
Thankfully, however, I tend to prefer characters over plot anyway, so it wasn’t an insurmountable issue. My main interests were the three protagonists – who are all female – and the unique storyline. I’m usually not a fan of chapters written in second person, because I often don’t see how it adds value. Yet in this book, Essun’s chapters were probably my favourite!
Because the majority of the fantasies I have read are Young Adult, this was very refreshing. Naturally the content matter cannot be compared – The Fifth Season is definitely mature – it isn’t as trope-y as most fantasies I’ve read, which made this such a thrilling read. The plot twists were amazing and I’m so keen to continue reading this series, which is a big deal for me!
Another reason why I am wary of reading adult fantasies more often, is the lack of diversity and glorification of violence and rape. N.K. Jemisin’s work is not like that. Yes, she touches upon several serious topics, but it’s never exploited. Anyway, I liked the fact that the majority of the characters are people of colour and there’s also queer representation, such as a female trans side character and a polyamorous relationship.
content and trigger warnings for child abuse, mention of paedophilia, murder, death, physical injuries, bullying, sex (M/F, M/M, M/M/F, on the page), ableist language (such as cr*zy), grief, natural disasters, mentions of cannibalism, racism, slavery
Though there’s still plenty I don’t understand about the world-building, I am hooked and cannot wait to continue this series!
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