The Fifth Season

by N. K. Jemisin
Series: Broken Earth 1
Reviewed date: 2018 Sep 12
Rating: 3
468 pages
cover art

The Fifth Season definitely deserves its Hugo nomination. I may not have picked it to win, but that's likely because I'm partial to science fiction over fantasy. Just my preference.

Viewpoint characters
There are three viewpoint characters, and the story switches between them, telling their stories at the same time. The styles of the three sections are actually quite similar, despite one section being written in second person and the others in third person.

A young orogene girl. She's an orogene, that is, someone who can draw power from the earth and move objects with her mind. On the tectonically active world of the Stillness, the ability to control the movement of the earth is vital. Orogenes quell earthquakes. But orogenes are also dangerous and lose control of their powers: most orogenes discover their gift when, as young children, they accidentally kill a family member or friend. So people are afraid of them.

When Damaya's parents discover she's an orogene, they disown her and send her away to the Fulcrum, in Yemenes. There she's abused and forced to develop her powers so she can serve the empire by quelling earthquakes and keeping everyone safe.

The next character is Syenite, a four-ring orogene with Fulcrum training. As a four-ringer, she's accomplished and competent at her job, but still relatively junior. She's assigned to work with Alabaster, a ten-ring orogene. Actually, though, her real job is to sleep with him and produce a baby. Orogeny is hereditary and the Fulcrum desperately wants more ten-ringers like Alabaster.

The third viewpoint character is you. You're an old orogene woman named Essun, living in a small comm where your identity as an orogene is secret. Your husband discovers your son is an orogene, so he kills the boy. Then a Fifth Season begins. A Fifth Season is when volcanic eruptions throw enough ash into the sky to blot out a sun for a few years. All comms prepare for a Fifth Season by having a few years of food and supplies saved up. But this Fifth Season is a bad one. It's going to last centuries, possibly thousands of years. Nobody will survive. You don't care--you just want to track down your husband and kill him for murdering your son. On your way to do that, you meet a boy named Hoa. He's not an orogene or a still (that is, a non-orogene). He's a stone eater. An entirely different kind of creature, not human, but he can look like one.

Damaya is Syenite is you
It becomes apparent the three stories are not contemporaneous. From there, it's no surprise when we find out that Damaya is Syenite and Syenite is you. The parts about you are written in second person voice, and the entire book is written in present tense. The second person voice is odd, but it the author seems to be good at writing unconventionally.

The narrator
Surprise! There's a fourth character. He's been here all along. It's Hoa, and he's the narrator.

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