The Fifth Season, the first novel in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy, opens like a storybook for adults, and unfolds itself like a history. We’re given a story that makes this history terrifying and wonderful and strange all at once, as we see it through the lives of those living through it. The world is ending, both on a literal scale and a personal one.
Each of our three protagonists face the end of their respective worlds, or ways of life, or understandings therein. Each is in a different place in their respective lives that push them on paths they didn’t necessarily want or choose for themselves. This is part of why each character’s plight is so fascinating. These are individuls that are trying to take control of situations they have no control over.
We begin with the young Damaya, who is discovered to be an orogene; someone with the impossible ability to start or quell earthquakes and other such incredible skills that involve the earth around them. Damaya is taken from her home to join the Fulcrum, a school that teaches them to control this ability to the betterment of the world around them, though the world’s inhabitants seem only to hate orogenes.
Syenite, another of our primary antagonists, finds herself in a trying place in her life as she discovers the brutality of all she works under. She is paired with an incredibly powerful orogene named Alabaster, and together they uncover these secrets and more.
Essun is the novel’s primary protagonist. As the world is literally ending, she comes home to find that her husband has killed their son, because he discovered the boy had orogene abilities himself. She must track him down, as he also has the life of his daughter with him, who also happens to be an orogene. Her chapters are heartbreaking and intense.
But what most surprised me was Jemisin’s ability to play with POV so perfectly. Both Damaya and Syenite’s tales are told in 3rd person, but Essun’s is told in 2nd. This is a device rarely used in literature, and plays out like a dungeon master narrating directly to you what is happening around you and within your mind. The book has a surprise near the end with the POV’s which makes it all the better.
I’ll admit that though the characters were fully realized, I wish the rest of the world was also. Perhaps it was the author’s way of describing it, or lack thereof, but many times I found myself unsure of what I was supposed to be imagining in regards to the scenery, or the rooms they inhabit, and so forth. And for one POV character, the story stagnates halfway through just long enough to get a bit boring, so that the author can throw a sex scene or two in there, which didn’t feel necessary.
But have little doubt this is a superb read, with an excellent premise, and an incredible payoff. And it’s nominated for a 2016 Hugo Award for Best Novel!