The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin
Posted on November 26, 2019
“This is what you must remember: the ending of one story is just the beginning of another.”
The Fifth Season is a breath of fresh air. It’s the first book in a Science Fiction and Fantasy (SFF here on out) trilogy called The Broken Earth. In 2016, The Fifth Season won the Hugo Award for Best Novel, sending N.K. Jemisin into the literary spotlight. She was the first black author to win the prize. She joined a prestigious list of previous winners, including SFF legends Robert Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke. She distinguished herself further when the next two novels in her trilogy continued to win the same award in 2017 and 2018. She is the only author to win three Best Novel Hugos in three consecutive years.
The story is set on a planet similar to ours, except for the near constant seismic activity that makes life on its super continent a constant struggle for survival. Every few centuries, an apocalypse-level-threat wreaks havoc on the earth in the form of climate disaster – a “Fifth Season.” The Sanze Empire has survived by exploiting a portion of its people, called orogenes. Orogenes are people born with the rare ability to control the earth’s energy, allowing them to cause and prevent earthquakes. There is a cost, however, since an untrained orogene child can unintentionally kill living things in their area of influence when performing orogeny. Due to this, they are generally despised and feared by people across the continent. If they are not killed in childhood, an orogene may be allowed to live if trained by a Guardian at the Fulcrum, where they can be controlled. The story follows Essun, whose son, an orogene, was just killed by his own father. Now, she must search for her remaining child during what appears to be the final, planet-destroying season.
It’s no secret that white men have been the voice of SFF storytelling since its genesis. For a black, female writer to break out in the genre, let alone dominate it, is nothing less than the genre deserves. In an interview with Wired, she said that she did not set out to write an allegory for slavery and caste oppression, but rather a story about a mother grieving her child. She ultimately delivers an epic – voiced by black characters – which masterfully blends science and art, creating a world I could easily imagine. She proves what we have known all along – black stories have a place in SFF.
Despite its heavy themes, you don’t need to read this series as an allegory to take something from it. The glory is in its world building, magic system, and in Jemisin’s extraordinary ability to make her characters come alive. This story is epic. It’s already in development to become a TV series, and my fingers are crossed that the producers will do the story justice. I highly recommend you read this one before it blows up.