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  • Writer's pictureTerrie

My new favorite fantasy: Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season #1 by N.K. Jemisin

Genre: Fantasy

Award: Hugo Award + others

Published 2015, 468 pages

This book has been on my shelves for years. I'd read a little about it and somehow talked myself out of it. Then this year I bit off the whole "join-five-reading-challenges" thing and this book fit several was time! I'm SO sorry for the delay - this book is amazing. I tried to explain the plot and what I liked about it to my husband, and found it really difficult. I'll try again here. A great opening line:

"Let's start with the end of the world, why don’t we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things."


I admit, this book got me from the first line. Bear with me as I try to describe why I enjoyed this so much. I want to describe the feeling and plot of the story but not give too much away - always a challenge. It's sort of post-apocalyptic since the planet is in constant seismic flux and villages/cities are always on the verge of collapse. It's definitely fantasy in the way the magic skills and world function.

"Then people began to do horrible things to Father Earth. They poisoned waters beyond even his ability to cleanse, and killed much of the other life that lived on his surface. They drilled through the crust of his skin, past the blood of his mantle, to get at the sweet marrow of his bones. And at the height of human hubris and might, it was the orogenes who did something that even Earth could not forgive: They destroyed his only child."

Orogenes are beings that have a special connection to the earth and are able to reach underground and manipulate rocks and dirt and either cause them to still (no earthquakes) or pull them to the surface (cause major destruction). Because of this power they are feared (duh!) and ostracized and when discovered, they are killed or forced to the capital city where they are "trained" to do the bidding of the controlling government. Much like slaves.

The heroine is Essun, an orogene in hiding in a small village. She has two children who show the beginning of sharing her ability. Her husband kills the toddler boy and leaves with the older daughter. The story revolves around Essun trying to follow and find her daughter through major earth changes that denote another "fifth season" or end of the world.

Essun meets such interesting people along the way who become her traveling companions. In a separate storyline we learn of the capture and training of a little girl orogene and what hardships that entails. We are shown that this is not the first "fifth season" and there are artifacts from previous civilizations that may influence what happens in the present.

So many layers, so much rich detail in the world building. I found the characters endlessly fascinating and the language development is excellent. Unlike many fantasy stories that make up words for things that remove any familiarity with something we could identify, this one uses similar but changed words, e.g. "geneer" for an engineer.


Though written in 2015, many of the subtexts are relevant today. Expertly woven throughout the story are excellent representations of current societal concerns. All the characters are black and skin variations are described interestingly, systemic oppression is clear in the treatment of the orogenes, and while sex is certainly not a big part of the story, when it IS presented, it's presented in all facets: hetero, gay, trans, etc. All are unapologetically accepted.


On the surface this is an excellent fantasy story with such well developed characters, such a complete and familiar yet very different world, a good plot device to move the story forward (a mom trying to find and save her daughter and a planet on the verge of collapse), and beautiful language. And yet it's so much more if you care to look a little deeper. This is SO worth your time! I've requested the next in the trilogy from the library and can't wait to read it.

Reading Challenge: #ReadHarder20 #15: climate change; #BooklistQueen20 #22: book from bottom of TBR list; #PopSugar20 #12: passes the Bechdel test (two female characters talking about something NOT man related); #Bookworm20 #9: on my TBR more than a year (there were lots that fit this criteria!)

top photo Three Sisters in Australia; bottom photo Cape Disappointment, Washington - both by me

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