Intrigued. Curious. Disturbed. After last year’s Hugo Award controversy, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to read this year’s nominees. After reading The Fifth Season, the first book in a new trilogy by N. K. Jemisin, I'm so glad that I didn't give in to my disillusionment.
The world building alone made it worth reading. The ideas are fresh. Yes, yes we are told that this is a story about the end of the world. But, why is the world ending? What has caused “Father Earth’s surface [to be] cracked like an eggshell?” Fifth Seasons are “ages in which the earth has broken somewhere and spewed ash or deadly gas into the sky, resulting in a lightless winter that lasted years or decades instead of months.” People band together in “comms” to try to survive the normal upheavals and possible fifth seasons. The world is populated by ordinary humans, but Jemisin also introduces Orogenes, Guardians, and Stone Eaters. The Orogenes, who are the main characters in the novel’s various plots, have the ability to control the movement of the earth. They are despised and feared, considered “not human,” and kept under control of the Guardians. But, who really are these characters? Jemisin slowly unwraps the world.
Jemisin also slowly reveals the novel’s plots. First, a woman discovers that her husband has murdered their son. As she searches for her husband and daughter, she is also confronted with the prospect of a probable fifth season. Second, a little girl is rejected by her parents and given to a Guardian to take to the Fulcrum, a place where Orogenes are trained and controlled. Lastly, two Orogenes, one fairly competent and the other extremely masterful, are sent to clear coral from a harbor, on what appears to be a fairly mundane mission. How do the three major plotlines fit together?
Because I was so driven by curiosity while I was reading The Fifth Season, I did not spend a lot of time dwelling on the parts that were disturbing. The abuse of the Orogenes is inhumane. Their raw power is terrifying.
By the end of The Fifth Season, some of my initial questions were answered, but I picked up more along the way. Needless to say, I am going to read the next novel in the series. I don’t need anyone or any award to convince me of the value of this novel.