Review by New York Times Review
FANTASY NOVELS OFTEN provide a degree of escapism: a good thing, for any reader who has something worth escaping. Too often, though, that escape comes through a fictional world that erases rather than solves the more complex problems of our own, reducing difficulty to the level of personal struggle and heroism, turning all obstacles to monsters we can see and touch and kill with a sword. But N.K. Jemisin's intricate and extraordinary world-building starts with oppression: Her universes begin by asking who is oppressing whom, what they are gaining, what they fear. Systems of power stalk her protagonists, often embodied as gods and primeval forces, so vast that resistance seems impossible even to contemplate. When escape comes in her novels, it is not a merely personal victory, or the restoration of a sketchy and soft-lit status quo. Her heroes achieve escape velocity, smashing through oppressive systems and leaving them behind like shed skins. The world is ending in Jemisin's new novel, "The Fifth Season," in ways from small to large and fast to slow, yet that's not such a bad thing, because the world is the enemy of the story: Father Earth as an antagonist whose unending cycle of destruction is all the more terrible for its faceless, insensate nature. The planet's oppression of its inhabitants parallels their own systematic oppression of the orogenes, mutants whose power to subdue the violent earth - at a cost - evokes the fear and hatred of the humans around them, and the hunger to make use of them. The lives and minds and bodies of the orogenes are trampled and exploited by their civilization as casually as the planetary crust shudders open a new volcano: a similarly impersonal cruelty that in both cases leads inevitably to the fifth season of death and destruction. "The Fifth Season" brings us to the end of the world in three different times, with three orogene women at different stages of life and loss. Their stories begin with the ending of their own worlds: the child Damaya as she is taken from her home to be trained to serve her empire; the prickly and resentful Syenite as she is sent on a mission that uncovers the brutal truths of her life's work; and the older Essun, living in hiding, as she discovers her husband has murdered their young son and taken their daughter. Essun's story, told in the present, begins in the moment of the larger cataclysm and is the most intimate; her agony and its second-person voice demand our close sympathy. All three narratives are urgent and deftly interwoven to reveal their far-future earth, a world that has buried our own civilization and many others in its lower strata. In this world, social oppression is an irresistible and natural force, but nature isn't seen through a green-colored wash of sentiment. Nature is trying to kill you and every other living thing, is going to kill you, now or in a century or in a thousand years. Yet there is no message of hopelessness here. In Jemisin's work, nature is not unchangeable or inevitable. "The Fifth Season" invites us to imagine a dismantling of the earth in both the literal and the metaphorical sense, and suggests the possibility of a richer and more fundamental escape. The end of the world becomes a triumph when the world is monstrous, even if what lies beyond is difficult to conceive for those who are trapped inside it. NAOMI NOVIK is the author, most recently, of the novel "Uprooted."
Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [August 9, 2015]
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Humans struggle to survive on a ruined world in this elegiac, complex, and intriguing story, the first in the Broken Earth series from acclaimed author Jemisin (the Inheritance Trilogy). The Stillness is a quiet and bitter land, sparsely populated by subsistence communities called comms. Essun lived quietly in a comm with her husband and children until her secret got out: she-and her children-are orogenes, those who have the ability to control Earth forces. They can quell or start earthquakes, open veins of magma, and generally cause or rein in geological chaos. Authorities keep a brutal hold on orogenes, controlling everything about their lives, including whom they breed with. Those who escape servitude and seek safety in the comms face expulsion and execution at the hands of the fearful. Soon after Essun's secret is revealed, her husband kills their son, and her daughter goes missing. Essun sets off to find the girl, undertaking a journey that will force her to face unfinished business from her own secret past. Jemisin's graceful prose and gritty setting provide the perfect backdrop for this fascinating tale of determined characters fighting to save a doomed world. Readers hungry for the next installment will also find ample satisfaction in rereading this one. Agent: Lucienne Diver, Knight Agency. (Aug.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
In a world plagued by cataclysmic tectonic activity, the only way to survive is to constantly prepare for the next fifth season. But no one is ready for the scope of the disaster that strikes when the capital city of a continent-wide empire is subsumed in a massive rift that spreads hundreds of miles. Using alternating points of view, Jemisen explores the lives of several characters in the years leading up to the cataclysmic disaster. -VERDICT Multiaward winner Jemisen breaks uncharted ground with this long-awaited title that introduces a fresh world and trilogy, creating a completely realized society inhabited by three varieties of humans and a nonhuman species that lives inside the earth. With Jemisen's record of prestigious literary honors, plus her strong following, this is a must-buy for all speculative fiction collections and an excellent recommendation for fans of Brandon Sanderson's "Mistborn" trilogy.-JM © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.