Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Book Review: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

I saw the author Of The Fifth Season at Book Riot Live last year on a panel talking about world- building. The panel was called "writing what you don't know" and Ms. Jemisin shared the stage with Margaret Atwood. My reading this novel was the result of having attended that panel and being thoroughly enthralled with what Ms. Jemisin had to say about authenticity, researching the real world even if you're making things up, and her own experience reading characters that influenced the way she wrote when she was starting out.

First off, the dedication in this book is lovely. It reads: “For all those that have to fight for the respect that everyone else is given without question.” BOOM! You know there's going to be some heavy moral/ political/ humanity shit happening in this book. And, yes, there is.

"Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze -- the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization's bedrock for a thousand years -- collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman's vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She'll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter."

This book is told, really, from the perspective of three female voices/characters: A older woman (Essun), the only who that speaks in the first person, who is searching for her missing daughter (e.g., hunting her husband who presumably fled with her) while grieving the loss of her young son; a young girl (Damaya) who has discovered she is a member of a race of special people that good and normal people hate; and a young woman (Syan) who is coming to terms with a hard truth about the society she lives in. Essun has been in hiding, hoping that her children will be sage. Dama wants her new mentor to be proud of her even though his love is cruel and there is no room for noncompliance. And Syan has been trained to obey and serve, even if that means she must be a "breeder" for an older man who represents so much of what she hates. 

In this world are the Orogenes, a race of people who are able to manipulate the earths movements, which as you can imagine, terrifies everyone who can't manipulate the earth's movements. And terror rarely allows for compassion or for the best of humanity to shine through.

The book is written with strong and beautiful language. It isn't a book to read when you're feeling impatient to just have a book done. The world- building is thorough and extensive as is the narrative. Each character, including the men as well as the three main female voices, are beautifully developed. The different voices, changes in points of view, and timelines can feel a little disconcerting at times. The chapters alternate points of view and there was one point where I skipped a chapter and went back to it. I NEEDED to know what was happening with that particular character, DAMN IT! But, the way the the three voices come together and the story unfolds really make the whole thing well worth the effort.

Overall, I'd give this book a solid 4 out of 5 Goodreads stars, for whatever that's worth.

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