N.K Jemisin’s “The Fifth Season” sings the seeming futility of strife during an age of decimation
by Kevin O’Neil, Arts & Entertainment Editor
Photo courtesy of complex.com
From a thousand derelict monuments of a thousand dead civilizations, to crumbling landscapes and oppressive institutions, there is born a story that is centralized around a single monolithic character: “You.”
N. K. Jemisin’s “The Fifth Season” is the initial book in her “Broken Earth” trilogy, a work of bleak fantasy presented in one of the unique modes of storytelling out there – second person perspective – with a vibrant selection of characters and themes of oppression, perseverance and identity.
The story takes place on a continent called the Stillness – quite the ironic name, given that it’s ever-changing landscape of neurotic fault lines. Tremors rattle the earth with the frequency of afternoon rain showers and towns are decimated at the frequency of power outages during a storm. But lately, things have been getting worse. The common folk think it to be just another “Fifth Season,” or just another years long period of near-apocalyptic levels of environmental instability. However, there exists a people attuned to the earth and her tremors, the Orogenes, the Roggas, who know that this will be the last time the world will end.
The book begins by introducing the reader to themselves as the protagonist saying, “You are she. She is you. You are Essun. Remember? The woman whose son is dead.”
The narrative follows Essun, one of the aforementioned Orogenes, who are used and abused for their ability to listen to and influence tremors, and has been living in hiding from her morbid past for many years.
Her newly established status quo is swiftly shattered when she finds her son dead at home, with her husband and daughter missing. After a dayslong period of an anguish-stricken stupor, she decides to go after her husband, retrieve her daughter and avenge her son.
The book doesn’t always lean on the second person perspective. It also follows Damaya, a child who is just discovered as an Orogene, and Syenite, a young Orogene who comes under the guidance of a very odd and powerful mentor, with whom she travels with and through whom she acquaints herself with the world and its horrors. Her mentor is Alabaster, an Orogene bred for raw power and a man broken by the truths of his people’s suffering.
The Fifth Season explores oppression and liberation, in all their dirty details and grimy consequences; but most of all, how tall an order, how high a price paid is justifiable for a race’s freedom.
In a nutshell, N. K. Jemisin’s “The Fifth Season” is an excellent read, with a colorful array of three-dimensional characters and a plot that has thought and purpose.
N.K Jemisin, author of “The Fifth Season”.
Photo courtesy of http://nkjemisin.com/