Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin

This book just knocked me sideways. It's the first of a series, and I realized half-way through that the second book isn't coming out until August. It's going to be a long five months. I mean, how often do you read a book with first lines like this?
    Let's start with the end of the world, why don't we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things.
    First, a personal ending. There is a thing she will think over and over in the days to come, as she imagines how her son died and tries to make sense of something so innately senseless. She will cover Uche's broken little body with a blanket - except his face, because he is afraid of the dark - and she will sit beside it numb, and she will pay no attention to the world that is ending outside. The world has already ended within her, and neither ending is for the first time. She's old hat at this by now. . .
    But you need context. Let's try the ending again, writ continentally.
    Here is a land.
The end comes - and this is all in the Prologue, mind you - when a man stands outside a great city. He gather forces from below and around and above him.
    He takes all that, the strata and the magma and the people and the power, in his imaginary hands. Everything. He holds it. He is not alone. The earth is with him.
    Then he breaks it. . .
     Now there is a line, roughly east-west and too straight, almost neat in its manifest unnaturalness, spanning the girth of the land's equator. The line's origin point is the city of Yumenes.
    The line is deep and raw, a cut to the quick of the planet. Magma wells in its wake, fresh and glowing red. The earth is good at healing itself. The wound will scab over quickly in geologic terms, and then the cleansing ocean will follow its line to bisect the Stillness into two lands. Until this happens, however, the wound will fester with not only heat but gas and gritty, dark ash - enough to choke off the sky across most of the Stillness's face within a few weeks.
This ushers in a Fifth Season, "an extended winter - lasting at least six months" according to the glossary in the back of the book. I didn't find that appendix until I'd finished the book. I had figured that the Fifth Season must be a deadly one, outside the normal round of time, which this one certainly will be.

We learn later that there are people in this land (the Stillness) who like the unnamed man of the prologue can pull and direct energy from the earth or other matter. The official term for these people is "orogene," but they are usually called "roggas" by those who hate and fear them. Children who show orogenic talent may be sent to the Fulcrum in Yumenes, where they are taught to control and use the talents, to stop earthquakes for example. Some orogenes try to mask their power, to blend in with their communities. But the gift (or the curse) is genetic, and children often give themselves away before they learn to hide it.

There are several strands to this story, which moves back and forth in time from the end of the world. We learn more about the woman mourning her dead son, who must also deal with the cataclysm unleashed by the broken earth. There is another child, from an earlier time, whose power manifests itself one day in the school yard. Her frantic parents lock her in the barn while they notify the authorities. And we follow an older orogene, sent from the Fulcrum to deal with a problem in a coastal community. It took me a little while to orient myself in this world, and to sort out the different strands of the story. But I found each of them so compelling that the switches between them caught me by surprise. I was sometimes tempted to peek ahead, to follow a particular story a bit further - but I resisted. I had an idea that a couple of them might come together in the end, but there were twists that I didn't see coming. I reached the last page without realizing it, mislead by the appendices and some teaser chapters from other books. I wasn't prepared for the story to end, and I was left feeling a bit bereft. I've had a hard time settling down with another book since- my heart and mind are still back in the unstill Stillness. I have already pre-ordered the next book. There are mysteries to be explained, and I want to know what happens next!


  1. Yayyyy NK Jemisin! I have loved her authorial voice since reading a brief excerpt from her very first novel in 2010, and I think she's just gotten better and better as a writer since then. I do have to be in the mood to read one of her books, but when I am in the mood, there's nothing better.

  2. I have The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms in my Nook, as well as a book copy, and I can pretty much open that anywhere and be caught up in the story.

    I still have the Dreamblood books to read, so they might help me make it to August.

  3. I had almost exactly the same experience reading this book. It blew away! Can't wait for the next one.

    1. It's been a while since I've been so excited for a sequel! I love the title - The Obelisk Gate - because they're so fascinating.

  4. That sucks that you have to wait so long for the second book to come out; I hate when that happens. It's why I sometimes wait for a series to be completely finished before I start reading it. I don't like having to wait. :)

    1. I don't either :) Not that I don't have shelves of other books I could read - including Ms. Jemisin's other series. I know people who don't like reading series just for this reason!


Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!