The Fifth Season: The Broken Earth, Book 1, WINNER OF THE HUGO AWARD 2016 (Broken Earth Trilogy)

by N. K. Jemisin

Paperback, 2016



Call number



Orbit (2016), Edition: 1, 512 pages


Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, masquerading as an ordinary schoolteacher in a quiet small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Mighty Sanze, the empire whose innovations have been civilization's bedrock for a thousand years, collapses as its greatest city is destroyed by a madman's vengeance. And worst of all, across the heartland of the world's sole continent, a great red rift has been torn which spews ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries. But this is the Stillness, a land long familiar with struggle, and where orogenes -- those who wield the power of the earth as a weapon -- are feared far more than the long cold night. Essun has remembered herself, and she will have her daughter back. She does not care if the world falls apart around her. Essun will break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member StormRaven
There is a vague and indistinct region in between the genres of fantasy and science fiction. While some books rest comfortably on one side of this division or the other, others are happy to rest in that ambiguous zone between them, maybe from some angles a work of fantasy, and from others a work of
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science fiction. The Fifth Season is one of those books, with elements that make one think that the story is a pure fantasy, and others that are squarely within the realm of science fiction. Against this backdrop, Jemisin weaves a brutal story of enslavement, oppression, and anger that is at once intensely personal and breathtaking in its scope.

The story is told from three distinct viewpoints: Essun, an older woman who must deal with the death of her son and the abduction of her daughter, Damaya, a young girl ostracized by her home community for her powers over the Earth who is taken in by the Fulcrum, a mysterious order comprised of such gifted individuals, and Syenite, a young woman of the Fulcrum, fully trained in the ways of oregeny, and on an assignment to prove her worth. The skill of oregeny, is essentially the centerpiece of the science fiction in the book. In a nutshell, oregeny is the ability to "feel" the Earth's changes, and also to draw upon its power to manipulate it as well. From a certain perspective, one could call oregeny "Earth magic", and that is how those who don't have the skill seem to regard it.

Though these three stories are separate, they eventually link together into a coherent whole, and the way in which Jemisin does this is a masterful example of skillful writing. Each of the three viewpoint characters adds something to the whole, allowing Jemisin to both give the reader a lens through which to see the fictional world she has created, and a

[More forthcoming]
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LibraryThing member invisiblelizard
I read an interview with NK Jemisin not long ago who said: "I just want to write about things blowing up. Gods and planets and moons crashing into things. But what I write ends up being very political. If I write about dragons, I'm writing about dragons as a black woman, and it's f__king
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political." And I was intrigued.

Then I read that she's the only writer ever to win the Hugo award three years in a row for each book in a trilogy. (Also the first black writer to win it, period.) And I was fascinated. I'm choosy about the fantasy I read, because so much of it is churned out quickly to meet the needs of a voracious audience more interested in story than craft. But I decided to give this one a try.

I started with The Fifth Season, not sure if I was going to make it all the way through three books. Half-way in, I had already bought the second two and had them lined up. It's not a perfect fantasy novel, but it checks a lot of boxes for me. Good story. Good characters. Good world building. Clever use of magic, but not an over-use. Defined rules (both to the magic and to the society surrounding it).

And wow, what a powerful metaphor. She was right when she said her writing is political, but I call bull-sh!t on her claiming to just want to write stories about things blowing up and nothing more. When she writes about an entire section of people (you could call them a race, if you want) being subjugated and used for a singular purpose to help the remaining people thrive and live better lives, especially when the lives of those people (can we just call them "slaves"?) don't have value and they can be killed at any time with no consequence, my God, that's a deliberate statement. An amazing, powerful, moving, and deliberate statement. If a white man had written this, it wouldn't nearly be so powerful. A black woman writing this adds the force of centuries of oppression behind it. Knocked me off my figurative feet.

As for the writing, a few thoughts:

The way this story was told, split into three parts and told from three different points of view and you don't find out until near the end that all three women are the same person, just at different points in their lives, even though I started to suspect this well before the reveal was an unnecessary complication. I could have done without that. I think the story would have been more meaningful if you had known the relationship between these three women up front so you could accurately compare/contrast their experiences.

Initially I thought the use of the second person perspective was going to annoy me, but ultimately it didn't. In college we used to laugh at students in our creative writing classes who would use the second person for a short story and think they're being edgy or clever, and they truly weren't. Jemisin wasn't trying to be edgy. I think she just wanted to set one character apart. (And having read the entire trilogy now, I kind of see what she was attempting to do.) Now, understanding that all three women in this first book are the same person, it doesn't really make sense that only one of them was spoken of in the second person and not all of them. So that doesn't really work for me.

Last thought for now: Jemisin is a master at making each chapter count. By that I mean, there was no fluff in this book. Each chapter, practically each scene, was important to the story in some way. And even bouncing around between three different characters, I felt that each storyline was evenly balanced, equally important. That's extremely difficult to do. When one storyline leaves you hanging at the end of a chapter with a cliffhanger and you know you have to read a whole other chapter on someone else's story line, you can sometimes get anxious to get back to the one with the cliffhanger. Unless they are both equally important. I get the feeling that this novels (in fact, all three of these novels) were meticulously plotted out well before the writing even started. I love this. I want the writer to know everything before she starts writing. That way I can leave myself completely in her hands and trust her to lead me somewhere grand.

I'm sure I'll have more to say on the other two books, so I'll wrap this up for now. Very excited to read on!
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LibraryThing member cissa
Wow. This is an amazing, excellent book- though the style is somewhat literary, so if you hate that in your sf/f, you may not go for this one.

Still, this time I say "literary" in its best senses: carefully crafted use of words, subtle and well-designed plot, and gripping characters.

I really loved
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how 3 divergent threads throughout the book reconciled at the end, and in a way I had not anticipated.

Along for the ride- but not overwhelming at all- is racism, oppression of classes of people by the majority- and how that will likely backfire at some point.

The world is strange and wonderfully drawn, too!

This is one of the best books I've read all year, and possibly Jemisin's best thus far.
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LibraryThing member andreablythe
On the same day Essun comes home to find that her husband has murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter, a volcanic rift is torn across the center of the continent throwing the Sanze empire into chaos. A great earthquake rolls over the land, crushing cities and villages, and ash begins to
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cloud the sky. Essun leaves behind the illusion of normalcy she had shaped for so many years and journeys into a wilds of the collapsing world in order to pursue her husband and save her daughter.

Essun is a woman with secrets and many names. I don't really know how to talk about her without giving something away. There were aspects of her personality and her story that were only revealed (to me, at least) deep into the novel, her individuality, her self having many aspects, all naturally fitting in to the whole of her story. She's complicated and calm and full of rage. One phrase she repeats again and again throughout the story as she faces prejudice and oppression in many forms is, "It's not right." She sees that society is violently broken and is powerless to stop it. And already, I feel as though I've said too much, so let's move on.

The worldbuilding in The Fifth Season is exceptional. It's a world built on continual catastrophe, a continent continually beset by earthquakes and the threat of apocalypse. The stability of the empire is built on survival through past destruction, surviving many apocalyptic seasons (known as fifth seasons, seasons of death) in which earthquakes, volcanoes, or other natural disasters have created months, years, or decades of light-less winter and famine. As such, the culture is focused on survival, with their scripture, known as Stone Lore, primarily presenting knowledge on how to prepare for and survive the next apocalyptic season that is sure to come.

The Fifth Season is the first book in the Broken Earth trilogy. I hadn't intended to get started on another series this year, but here I am and I don't at all mind. Jemisin's story is fantastic on many levels and I can't wait for next books to be released.
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LibraryThing member buffalopoet
I'll be pouncing on the next book when it comes out - well-paced, fascinating, and different - a post-apocalyptic world, one that could be earth, where the primary, and possibly only, continent is prone to tremendous seismic upheavals that start new ages. Think along the lines of ice ages, or
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dinosaur-extinction events, but earthquakes and lava. These events are occurring in hundred or thousand-year cycles with a written history and teachings recording how to survive and rebuild - all of which sets the stage for this first book.

The main character, whose name changes during the course of the book, is both sensitive to and can cause earthquakes jumping around her life - people with these power are treated with the same fatal fear that 'witches' in Salem were familiar with. However, these sensitives, when found first by the ruling class' representatives, are pressed into a guild of sorts, where they learn to use their powers for 'good.' It's a novel of finding the truth and deciding if truth with the associated price is worth it. It's also a fascinating story of a unique main character - one not always easy to root for, but one that you come to agree with. Great stuff! (warning: rant follows)

Once again, the 'whiny puppies' or whatever that group of good ol' boys who felt the Hugo awards were somehow becoming 'affirmative action' (based on the fact that the heroes of the books nominated, and their authors, didn't look like Jonnie from Battlefield Earth) have, in my case, caused the opposite of their intent. Their hurt, spoiled grousing has driven me to seek the authors that cause their tantrums, and in discovering writers like N.K. Jemisin and Ann Leckie, have discovered people who write circles around the average, and in joining the top echelons, are just as much fun to read with the extra interest of a different viewpoint. Thanks, puppies! *end rant*
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LibraryThing member reading_fox
I wanted to like this more than I did. It's slow, little happens, and much of the world building is confused, and I really didn't like deliberately confusing and necessarily complex plot structures, the book would have worked much better with a consistent linear chronology. That said, the
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character(s) are great, there is some clever invention and the everything else is engaging.

The world is confused mix of timelines, there is some electricity, some asphalt roads, canons, but most people live in middle age style agrarian lives, with little metal, obsidian knives, and no technology. It's not clear why Jemsin as intruded the more modern elements, or restricted their uptake. Humans are widespread, but there are two other less well known races - one is some form of gargoyle like stone beings, of unknown origin and motivation, rare but powerful. Any limits to their power are not described. The other, rogga, is somewhat like a hybrid of the two, but again not specified, with a mental ability to manipulate rock. This power is constrained through an admirable adhesion to thermodynamics, requiring both the training and skill of the operator, and sufficient heat sources to provide energy. Much less populous than humans they are feared, but also welcomed as they control and tame the violent tectonics of the world, mitigating the occurrence of the ruinous 'fifth season' of death that frequently destroys civilizations. The world history is littered with such fragments, and eventually enough wisdom has been accumulated to allow and empire to survive several tectonic incidents.

We follow one woman rogga through different stages of her life as she is trained, escapes and lives with the consequences of her actions. Meanwhile of course the world continues it's normal course without care that people's lives can be profoundly altered. It's clear that she has some special capacity, and that this is noticed by one of the stone-people. But in this volume there's no explantion of how or why, nor what the stone people want with her. We gain plenty of insight into her motivation, and why she's unhappy with the current social structure, but she takes little action to alter it.

I will probably read the rest of the series, but won't be too concerned about tracking them down.
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LibraryThing member pwaites
The Fifth Season is the start of an inventive apocalyptic fantasy trilogy set in a world wracked by frequent catastrophes which destroy civilizations and leave ruins in their wake. People have grown used to a world of disasters and prepared, storing food for hard times ahead. But when a giant rift
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in the earth rips apart the continent, annihilating the capital of the empire, enough ash is released into the air to block out the sun for thousands of years.

Amid the chaos, Essun finds that her husband has murdered their son and left with their daughter. As the world collapses around her, she sets off across the dying land to find them.

The Fifth Season is incredibly gripping, and I had a hard time putting it down once I started. It’s also one of the most imaginative fantasy novels I’ve encountered. The setting is not some clone of the “generic medieval Europe fantasy novel” but instead is a completely different world, heavily influenced by planetary science.

In The Fifth Season certain people, called orogenes, have the power to shape the earth itself, creating and stopping earthquakes or lifting mountains through the air. Orogenes are feared and hated by the ordinary people, the stills, and most orogenes are either killed or picked up by the empire to be shaped into tools and weapons. Essun is an orogene and she sees it as more of a curse than a gift.

The story of Essun is interwoven with two other stories, one of an orogene woman belonging to the empire and one of a girl picked up to be trained. Through the orogenes, Jemisin explores power, oppression, and slavery. The orogenes have been officially classified as non-human by the empire, and those owned by it have very little say over their own lives.

One of the aspects that interested me about The Fifth Season was the use of second person for Essun’s sections. It was the first time I’d encountered it in a novel, but I thought it worked very well. Essun very much has the feel of a woman set adrift. The life she had is destroyed, but she’s desperate to salvage one thing – her daughter – and doesn’t care about much else.

What will be interesting is to see how Jemisin carries the story forward in the sequels. The Fifth Season didn’t have much in the romance department, which I personally liked. The two other fantasy novels by Jemisin that I’ve read both have a romance between a super powerful man and an intelligent but less powerful woman. There was a bit of that in The Fifth Season, but it wasn’t exactly a romance and wasn’t part of the main story line. Hopefully she breaks the mold in books going forward and gives Essun as much power and agency as any eventual love interests.

If I had one worry about The Fifth Season, it was that it’d be too dark. I’m not usually a fan of apocalyptic novels, so I didn’t know how I’d feel about this one. Thankfully, while The Fifth Season was certainly dark, it was never without a sense of hope. I also don’t think it had the “grimdark” feel, for which I was grateful.

I would recommend The Fifth Season to anyone who likes imaginative world building, apocalypse stories, diverse characters, and fantasy novels in general. This is a not to be missed entry to the genre.

Originally posted on The Illustrated Page.
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LibraryThing member stefferoo
This book had the distinction of being on both my most anticipated SFF lists for 2014 and 2015, due to the publisher’s decision to push its release date back a year in order to give N.K. Jemisin more time to work on the sequels. So it was with no small amount of excitement when an advance copy
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finally made it into my hands. Proof that it was really happening.

And oh boy, was it TOTALLY worth the wait.

Initially though, my feelings were mixed after the first few chapters. There was that cryptic prologue, with its smattering of information about the world (then right away saying that none of these places or people I just read about actually matter – wait, what?) as well as the curious narrative style, including one character whose chapters were written entirely in the second person. That choice eventually makes sense, by the way, but at first I really wasn’t sure what to make of the book.

But then gradually, everything started to come together. I watched as connections were made, questions were answered, and blank spaces were filled in. The final result was this unique and wholly imaginative novel that delighting me to no end. The world-building elements which so confounded me at the beginning of the book eventually became clear, and I came to recognize the sheer ingenuity behind it.

The Fifth Season takes place on a continent known as The Stillness, ironically named given the instability of its geology and tectonics. The world would have fallen to pieces many times over if not for the Orogenes, a group of people with the powers to manipulate earth energies and shape the land. In reality though, The Stillness has actually gone through multiple apocalyptic events called “Seasons”, each one characterized by its specific end-of-the-world effects. It’s the norm for this world, but Orogenes do what they can to make it better, preventing many earthquakes or volcanic eruptions by catching anomalies in time before they can cause widespread destruction.

Yet for all that they do for humanity, Orogenes are feared, shunned and subjected to hostility and violent treatment. Their powers can be as unstable and catastrophic as the disasters they try to prevent, especially if the individual cannot learn control. Orogeny is also unpredictable. There’s a genetic predisposition for it, though theoretically anyone can be born an Orogene, so children discovered with the trait are immediately taken away for harsh and rigid training. However, there are also the unfortunate ones that don’t even make it that far before they’re murdered by their scared or panicky neighbors – or even their parents.

Essun experienced this in the worst way possible, coming home one day to find the lifeless body of her young son, beaten to death by her husband. An Orogene in hiding, Essun realizes with grief and horror what must have happened. The boy must have exhibited powers, and his father reacted by killing him. Now Essun fears for the life of her daughter whom her husband has kidnapped, and she is determined to go after them. This is her story, a heartbreaking and beautifully written narrative of a woman’s journey taken upon for love and revenge. Jemisin may have created a world here full of mind-blowingly fantastical elements, but she hasn’t left us wanting in the character department either, giving us an emotionally raw, very human tale.

I have to say the characters are truly wonderful. The Fifth Season follows three perspectives: Essun, a rogue Orogene whose only quest now is to get her daughter back; little Damaya, taken away by an Orogene handler called a Guardian to Yumenes where she will be trained to control her powers; and Syenite, a young woman paired with a more experienced mentor in order to learn from him and breed with him, ensuring that the next generation will have talented Orogenes to keep The Stillness safe. All three threads are so engaging and poignantly detailed, each one giving the reader a distinct reason to care about these strong yet conflicted characters. It was also a wonderfully surprising moment when you realize how all three characters are connected, and how their individual narratives fit within the larger scope of the story arc.

Finally, I have a confession to make. While this is my first Jemisin novel, years ago I actually started to read A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms around the time it came out, but for whatever reason I put it down and never did get around to picking it up again. I have every intention of going back to the book one of these days, but for obvious reasons I didn’t count it as being “read”. I did, however, feel like I got enough to get a feel for her writing, and now reading The Fifth Season in 2015, I can see how far her skill has come since her debut. With such rich world-building, relatable characters and compelling storytelling, I just knew I had to see all that through to the end, and the conclusion was a real surprise, both marvelous and disquieting.

I’m so glad I read this. The Fifth Season is the first novel of The Broken Earth trilogy, and it’s a strong introduction to a brand new world featuring some very fascinating, very special characters. Highly recommended. It’s definitely not going to be an easy wait for the next book.
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LibraryThing member yarb
It's fair to say The Fifth Season didn't make the earth move for this reader — or maybe it just missed my orogenous zones.

The concept is interesting enough — world without a moon and resulting tectonic ructions —, and I liked the non-human characters, of whom (perhaps this is why I liked
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them) we don't see very much. But pretty much everything else here pissed me off.

Prose punctuated by breathless... dramatic... pauses and —
One-word paragraphs.
And italics.
To make sure you Get The Emotional Point.

Second-person narration that, as almost-always, serves no purpose. Present-tense narration that infantilises the reader.

Stupid neologistic swear-words a la "Stand on Zanzibar". In this case everything is some mashup of "rust", "fire" and "earth". Rusting evil fires under earth, it gets old fast!

Vocab-based worldbuilding that's distinctly uninspired. Instead of towns and villages we have "comms", short for... communities. OK. Dead civilisations are known as — drumroll — "deadcivs". The northern mid-lattitudes of Jemisin's continent are called the Nomidlats. See if you can guess what their southern-hemisphere quivalents are called. Was she a realtor before becoming a writer?

Quite possibly, because the writing is as workmanlike as a low-end MLS listing. There's a long section in a kind of magic school replete with dorm-politics, which will please Potterheads but didn't please me. And dei don't get any more ex machina than the ones that unfailingly yeet our clueless heroine out of her brushes with mortality.

Of course it's a trilogy and of course absolutely nothing is resolved at the end of this first episode. Jemisin doesn't give a shit. Fuck you she says (or maybe "get rusted"), congrats on finishing, now you have to read the other two and hope I wrap it up in another 900 pages. I'd rather pass a kidney stone.
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LibraryThing member dukedom_enough
N. K. Jemisin's new fantasy novel, first of a series, is set in an imagined world where plate tectonics runs on fast forward. Earthquakes and volcanoes occur much more frequently than in our world. Towns routinely suffer rockfall, collapsed buildings, lava flows, and tsunami. Only in the relatively
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stable capital city may builders dare to put balconies on structures. Every few hundred years, the world's crust is torn with sufficient violence that the sun is blotted out for a year or more by smoke and ash, causing an extended winter - a Fifth Season, for which human communities must prepare by storing years of food supplies, and by maintaining ancient, harsh customs of preparedness. In every such season, many towns and cities are completely destroyed. Yet a continuous civilization has existed for thousands of years.

Orogenes, a small precentage of the population, are born with the ability to start, enhance, or suppress these seismic events. When untrained, they cause disasters, and so are feared and hated. Commonly, they are murdered as soon as their powers appear in childhood. A few are taken to the capital city, where they learn to control their abilities, to serve the rest of the society. In turn, they are controlled, their freedom taken away by the order of Guardians set above them.

The story begins at the beginning of the end of the world, when an orogene rips apart an entire continent, starting a Fifth Season more severe than any in history, one that will last for thousands of years. We then follow three stories.

Just before the earth suffers its unprecedented break, Essun discovers her baby son, murdered by his father, who has disappeared with their daughter. After the Season starts, she sets out into the growing chaos to find them.

Before the break, Damaya, a girl newly discovered to be an orogene, is taken from her community by the Guardian who will supervise her for the rest of her life. Her training begins with alternating kindness and terrible brutality from him and, later, her teachers and fellow students, in the citadel where all approved orogenes must live.

Also before the break, Syenite, a young adult orogene of great talent, is sent on an unimportant mission; her real orders are to become pregnant by her orogene companion, a senior member of her guild - for orogenes are bred by their Guardians, who seek bloodlines with improved talents. She has no choice in the matter.

Jemisin is African-American, and this book can be read, among other readings, as a parable of the experience of slavery. Her characters' position in their society, as a vitally important foundation but without freedom, is sharply drawn and heartbreaking. Heartbreak is everywhere; Essun's several-day vigil over her dead baby is not the worst thing that happens in the story. The book draws a well-realized secondary world, full of history and puzzles which we will learn more about later in the series. There are hints that this series may be science fiction disguised as fantasy. This was a common maneuver in the 1930-1960s, before Tolkien made fantasy respectable, but it's interesting and refreshing to see it used today - if I'm right.

If I have a complaint, it is that Jemisin, like many other younger writers, goes further than I prefer in the direction of outsourcing to the reader the details of setting and event. Often, just bare descriptions are supplied. Give us more imagery of that giant rift formed right at the beginning. Show some of the cities crashing down. But that's a minor point.

This, Jemisin's sixth novel, is a fine story told by a talented writer. It's brutal and sorrowful, as fantasy novels tend to be nowadays, and filled with uniquely conceived ideas and people. I look forward to the sequels.
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LibraryThing member AnnieMod
Essun, Damaya, and Syenite have something in common - all three are orogenes - the special people of the land that can control the seismic events of the Earth. But they are different - Damaya is a child, Syenite is a young woman and Essun - Essun in her middle years. And Jemisin tells her reader
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that they are Essun - running her story in the second face - you this, you that. Which is annoying at first but once you get used to be, it actually works.

The continent, called the Stillness is everything but still - the usual seasons occasionally get superseded by the fifth season - when the Earth gets crazy and sends the world into a nuclear winter - after earthquakes and volcanos decimate the world and almost lead to the end of the world. And yet, somehow, the humanity survives era after era - although civilizations die and leave artifacts. The stonelore remembers most of it - but a lot is also lost.

Meet Alabaster - the most powerful orogene to walk the world - and he is a bit deranged. Despite their powers (or maybe because of them), the orogenes are used and despised - they are tightly controlled and considered evil and in need of reeducation. The most powerful people being considered slaves is not a story that can ever finish well.

The novel starts with a big tremor that can be ending the world; it ends at the same place. It is the backstory of the world and the people - the 3 woment and Alabaster, the classes and the civilizations. The big twist when it comes is not really a surprise if you were paying attention - in a way I wish Jemisin had pulled it earlier so she does not need to hint that much in places -- subtlety did not work very will in some places. It is the journey of a woman who loses everything more than once. It is the story of a world that does not seem to be curious about the world outside of the continent. Which is unusual.

The hint for the moon is there early and its confirmation makes me wonder if this is actually a secondary world. A lot of planets have moons - but the whole hinting and lack of explanations in places make you wonder what else had everyone forgotten and why noone is interested.

It is a perfect novel for a start of a series but it does not stand alone - the story is interesting and complex and goes nowhere. It feels as if Jemisin forgot to tell a real story while building her world. Yes - there is the back story and there is the traveling and so on but... it feels more like a setup than a real story. Still highly recommended and I am waiting for the next one.
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LibraryThing member mpho3
Damn it, Jemisin! You are one of my two favorite authors in recent years, the other being Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Though I've never given you a five as I have her Half of a Yellow Sun, you are the more prolific of the two and have a higher batting average - I don't think I've ever rated anything
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of yours less than 4 stars, and this one came pretty close to being a five-star affair. With hints of China Miéville, Geoff Ryman, J.G. Ballard, and even a little Jeff VanderMeer, this work is all you, baby! The things I've come to love - fully drawn characters, complete and believable worlds, tension, high drama, multi-ethnicism, realistic dialogue - are all here in new and exciting ways even from your previous works. But here is where you've stuck it to me - the books in the other trilogies and duology also worked as standalones, but time you've ended on a genuine cliffhanger AND the next book isn't out until August? If only I had known. You set me up, and I fell for it - hard.
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LibraryThing member aulandez
It’s taken me a while to compile my thoughts about this book, because they’re complicated. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy was one of my favorite bits of recent fantasy. In that series she perfectly blended the the fun and lightheartedness of Naomi Novik with the rich worldbuilding of Patrick
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Rothfuss, and somehow fit an unexpected contemplativeness and subtle depth in to that mix. So, I’ve bee really eager to get my hands on The Fifth Season ever since I saw it mentioned on her blog.

Jemisin as an author has obviously learned a lot from her previous work, in The Fifth Season she carries a more complex plot with ease, and lets her worldbuilding skills run wild. Even with greater complexity, a richer setting, and darker more affecting conflicts, she manages to keep the addictive and light tone of her earlier books.

Where this book really struggled was its characters. I liked the protagonist, and certainly no one could say that this book lacked in character development, but over the course of the novel the protagonist seems to become shallower and shallower, and her relationships with other human beings harder and harder to emphasize with. I found myself excited every time a new side character was introduced, hoping they would prove more interesting.

The Fifth Season is very much a first installment in a series, particularly with regards to the plot. The book frustratingly ends without a clear conclusion to any plot major point. This makes for a lackluster ending, but is somewhat made up for by just how much has happened in the story from beginning to end. I haven’t read many fantasy novels that can change direction and twist so many times in such a short space.

Overall, while I found the Fifth Season harder to love than The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Jemisin has progressed as a writer in some really clear ways, and definitely has me eager to read the next book.
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LibraryThing member Carol_W
I found this story a bit harrowing. I should have known perhaps, when the author begins by telling us that this is how the world ends – for the last time. Jemisin is a very skilled writer. She made me feel every painful detail. This book doesn’t finish the story, although I have some idea, very
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broadly, of where the story may be going. I’m not sure I have the stomach to read any more, although I suspect the journey may be well worth it for those with stronger constitutions than mine.

Jemisin tells her ruthless tale with biting irony, assembling a picture whose pieces begin as disconnected shards that gradually slot into place. There is pleasure in watching this process, but I also felt some frustration. The author seemed intent on keeping us in the dark about things for as long as possible even when it served no actual function in the story, as if initial obscurity was a virtue in itself. There is a kind of prologue that tells us outright that certain things are important, but not how or why; while it simultaneously shows us characters who are not identified and an event the nature and significance of which are unclear. The answers eventually emerge out of the murk, but it isn’t clear to me why they needed to be so murky in the first place. I felt the story’s power lay in its events, not in these fabricated mysteries. In addition, there initially appeared to be three separate female characters, with different ages and names, but it eventually turned out they were all the same character at different times in her life. The three different timelines are intercut until they eventually run into each other and the connection is revealed. When it turned out that characters 2 and 3 were the same, I was able to jump to the conclusion that they were both also the same as character 1. It’s an impressive bit careful unfolding, but with nothing actually gained thereby. The story would have been just as gripping – and much less confusing – if I had known they were all the same character from the outset. (I didn’t label that a spoiler because I don’t think it spoils anything to know it.)

I waffled between three and four stars – three because I don’t like feeling manipulated unnecessarily by a writer, and four because there’s so much skill in the crafting of this tale and I’m sure many readers would enjoy it more than I did. My respect for Jemisin’s skill won out.
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LibraryThing member reganrule
am not much of a fantasy fiction person, but this came on recommendation from an avid reader. N.K. Jemisin has a reputation for being a good world builder. I found that to be the case. She imagines a world containing a single continent which is rife with seismic fault lines and ravaged again and
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again over many "Fifth Seasons" or end(s) of the world (defined as an era of at least 6 months of sunless existence). It is populated by small communities and townships (comms) which are comprised of members of different "use-classes" (innovator, leader, strongback) who answer to a territorial governor. These governors, in turn, communicate with an Imperial government who dispatch "orogenes" (individuals gifted with seismic powers) that they keep under their control. The story follows an escaped female orogene with remarkable powers.

All that said, I can't say I liked this book. Aside from good world building, Jemisin's sentences are dull and utilitarian. It reads at approximately a 8th grade level. The dialogue is ridiculous and it is NOT helped by neologistical curses like "Rusting Earth!", "Rust you!" and "Earthfires!". The strong female character feels like a caricature of every strong female character: she is headstrong, stubborn, full of backtalk, anti-authoritarian, etc. etc. And of course she bravely bears her burdens while still caring for others, even though her primary goal in life is to avenge the death of her child.** Nothing feels new here in other words. Another impudent woman. Ho hum.

However, if you like fantasy novels, here are some things that might entice you to read The Fifth Season: 1) It is helmed by a powerful, willful and sassy (of course!) female character who refuses to be a victim. 2) The societal maltreatment of orogenes can be read as a commentary on racism and race relations. 3) The homosexual characters are written in a mostly ungawking way. 4) Eugenics! Breeding!

I found the main character's relationship to her children incredibly confusing. Perhaps the later books will clear it up? On the one hand, she is loathe to do her breeding duty but undertakes it, and then has a child that she is rather indifferent to. So far, so good; this seems consistent with the character. But how does she get from this disinterestedness regarding one offspring to roaming the edges of the Stillness in search of the murderer of yet another child?
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LibraryThing member Janientrelac
This is the ultimate unreliable narrator book. i have to reread it to decide how this effects the book, check for hints, foreshadowing.
LibraryThing member pierthinker
This book is set on a far future Earth where, Pangea-like, the land mass is one giant supercontinent and where massive earthquakes and volcanic eruptions threaten to eliminate all human life every few hundred years or so. A subset of humans, ‘orogenes’, are able to detect and, when properly
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trained, even to control these earthquakes and eruptions. Perversely, orogenes are hated/feared by ‘normal’ humans and are strictly controlled and treated as nothing more than slaves, although sometimes pampered slaves, to be used as tools. Through a jumbled timeline we follow one orogene as we enter a period of possibly planet-devastating geological activity.

I am not normally a fan of fantasy fiction - I abhor the constant need to invent ‘new’ languages with unpronounceable names for objects that have perfectly good names in today’s world - and its unguarded descent into pomposity. Jemisin. Though, has won me over with an approach that eventually makes clear that what we see as fantasy is actually just science that we do not yet understand. Further, she focuses on complex relationships between people, communities and (for want of a better world) classes or castes. Within the big picture of global events and deep history we are grounded by what people actually do at these times.

There is a throb of excitement in wanting to know how these people react to the events around them when they do not have perfect knowledge of the situations they face that has made me move straight into reading volume two of this trilogy.
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LibraryThing member wyvernfriend
The Fifth Season is a book recommended by several people, several times at Octocon this year and I get it. A unique story. A land where people can influence what the earth does and where the earth is very volatile you read several stories of people who are involved and pivotal. A complicated and
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messy world with a lot of different political and personal stories going on.

Interesting and worth reading I'm looking forward to more.
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LibraryThing member adamwolf

A would read again. I stayed up late and finished this one, even after a long week, because it was so good.
LibraryThing member antao
"Back to the personal. Need to keep things grounded, ha ha"

in "The Fifth Season" by J. K. Jemisin

Surely most decent SF is unique, each story is different from other stories, each writer is different from each other writer?

Most of the speculative/dystopian/ science fiction I've read has been
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written by women and queer people, including non-white women and queer people. It's all been "different". But having got used to reading those imaginings (e.g., Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree Jr.), encountering the kind of white-hetero-male-dominated mainstream stuff mentioned in some comments regarding recent SF does feel really limited/limiting. There's often an absence of racial difference or gender variance in the story lines, lazy stereotyping and dialogue whenever these "others" do appear (and in many stories they don't) and no thought given to how whatever changes have taken place in society might impact on those with less of that kind of privilege.

I don't think it's the job of this review to tell you all about how "different" other writers' work might be. But hopefully it's inspired you to go out and read some of it for yourself. I thoroughly recommend Octavia Butler, and James Tiptree Jr. if you want someone to start with.

One of the reasons I read this kind of stuff is that I'm interested in all the different ways that people imagine the world changing. Some of the best examples are really thought-provoking, and give us insights into other people's experiences and ideas and attitudes. As someone who would dearly love the world/system we live in to change, I find this fascinating. Some of the mainstream stuff comes from a more limited perspective, and is therefore much less interesting to me. I don't think I'm alone in being excited to read stories that do explore more of these issues.

Speculative fiction has not unrelated problems that typify stereotypical white male framing that we also see in other areas of fiction, film, TV, plays and all other kinds of story telling: women characters that are "men in women's bodies" along with a dystopian point of view and, let's not forget the vast majority of stories that feature violence and hierarchy that results in the feeling that one has read the same few stories over and over.

So this is all too familiar and infuriating.

And yet I can think of nothing more typifying of the stereotypical than using a narrative voice that pulls me out of the story: "Back to the personal. Need to keep things grounded, ha ha". What the fuck is this????

Which again begs the question: why does ones identity have any bearing on what one wishes to write about? I mean, it might, but it might not. And it might have a bearing in driving you to write about things outside your own experience. I actually prefer alien characters to human. Humans are mostly dull whatever their gender, race or sexual orientation, unless you throw them to a situation outside their comfort zone or general experience. You've seen one you've seen all 7 or 8 billion of them...Jemisin’s prose is bland and terrible dull. Not that it’s awfully awful, but it lacks depth and a consistent narrative voice. But she can write about masturbation, ménage-à-trois, and dildos; why publish this as an adult novel? It should have been marketed as a YA-novel.

SF is not tick boxing. I am in interested in a good story, and universal concepts, problems and truths. SF often deals with Humanity, and Races and they're just part of the landscape and not the driving force of the story. Why can't I read what I want to read exploring Humanist principles (which I feel is what the SF is all about) rather than it being a soulless tickboxing exercise to make sure that it is the Right Speak/Think. I know I should to be so down on tick boxing. I mean, I prefer flea karate myself, but live and let live, right? NO! WRONG! One of the major functions of SF is and always has been exploring and questioning the status quo and unchallenged assumptions of our own culture. What someone might dismiss as "JW topics" just means 'anything that isn't about me and people like me'.
Have you read “The Left Hand of Darkness”, for example? One of the great classics of SF that among other things is significantly about gender identity. Iain M. Banks' Culture novels postulate a post-gender society where long-lived people change sex at will, and in “The Player of Games” he contrasts it with a three-sex alien race.

Many SF books examine cultural imperialism - think of Dune, for example, or Terry Pratchett's marvelous YA book “Nation”. Harry Harrison sneaked an entire monetarist theory into, of all things, “The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted”.
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LibraryThing member bragan
I am very late to the party when it comes to reading N. K. Jemisin's multi-Hugo Award-winning Broken Earth trilogy, especially considering how much I've enjoyed the other stuff of hers that I've read. But I'm very glad to have finally started on it now!

This is set in a world that is hugely,
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disastrously geologically active and experiences irregular Fifth Seasons: years-long periods of earthquakes and persistent winter, thanks to volcanoes or other geologic upheavals. In this world, there are people who can sense and control the movement of the earth, and these people are in turn controlled by others, used by them but never trusted, respected, or allowed their freedom.

It's a really interesting setting, and I like the way Jemisin just sort of drops us into it and lets us figure it all out as we go along. At the beginning, I was intrigued but definitely having to work to get a sense of this world, but by the end I'd become quite... Well, I was going to say "quite comfortable in it," but that's really not the phrase for it. It's not remotely a comfortable world, and certainly not a happy story. And there are still plenty of things that are mysterious by the end of this first volume. Enough things, indeed, that I'm very much looking forward to exploring them in the rest of the series. There is a certain extent to which this one feels like setup for things to come, but it's also a good story in its own right, and one that does some cool things, not just with worldbuilding, but with character and structure, too.
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LibraryThing member Karlstar
This is the first book in the Broken Earth series. It is also the first book I've read by N. K. Jemisin. I have to say, I really enjoyed the writing. Even the strange point of view of some of the chapters, which I found odd at first, stopped bothering me. Something about her writing style just made
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me want to keep reading this book.
That's a good thing, because the plot didn't. For far too much of this book, not a lot happened. Whether it was traveling or waiting for something, there was way too much waiting for something to happen. It also doesn't help that this is part fantasy, part post-apocalyptic fiction and part scifi (only a little). The characters are interesting, though sometimes a little one-note. All in all, an enjoyable read.
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LibraryThing member lavaturtle
This book is really great. I love the worldbuilding, and the character development. I love that the story deals head-on with what oppression looks like in a variety of subtle and unsubtle ways. I love that not all the characters are straight white cis people. Really glad the Hugo ballot caused me
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to read this book.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
Sometimes award winners are not the books that appeal to my reading tastes. This is one of those instances when the book does not live up to the hype that surrounds it. I am not sure where to start. I guess the best place is with the language used by the narrator; a language which told me that
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there were tremendous dramatic things happening in this world, but did not effectively demonstrate the drama. The story was a mystery hidden among the multiple characters that were not very realistic. Frankly, I never got used to the use of the second person narrative which begins on the first page with the narrator talking to the reader (you) and trying to bring you in to the story by saying things like "Let's start with the end of the world, why don't we." The protagonist is she and she has a son, but that will soon change, not that I cared after several hundred pages of fantastic mish-mash.

As opposed to what some reviews seem to suggest, there is nothing resembling science-fiction here - it is pure fantasy. In that fantasy I found nothing that compelled me to keep reading - most of the time I was baffled at what was happening and by the time I figured it out I did not care any more. There is a sort of heroism occurring here, but it was really only a not so cleverly masked us of deus ex machina.

I seldom recommend alternative books to read, but in this case, if this particular topic is of interest to you, your time would be better spent on something like Never Let Me Go from Kazuo Ishiguro. As a final note, the book presents a very specific set of moral values, but you have to look through the lens of our current political debates to see it. As soon as our talking points change this impact too will be lost.
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LibraryThing member waltzmn
I don't often review books that hat been reviewed more than ten times, let alone more than 250. I try not to review books I haven't finished, either. But this book perhaps needs a trigger warning. Knowing that it has been incredibly popular and praised very highly, I wanted to read it. I tried to
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read it. After about fifty pages of forcing myself, I gave up.

It's too cruel. Too many people hurting each other, often "for their own good." When others hurt, I hurt. This was too much pain.

Of course people are cruel. And we need to know that. But we don't need fiction for that. We have biology and we have history. And those are burden enough.
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Hugo Award (Nominee — Novel — 2016)
Nebula Award (Nominee — Novel — 2015)
Dublin Literary Award (Longlist — 2017)
Audie Award (Finalist — Fantasy — 2016)
Locus Award (Finalist — Fantasy Novel — 2016)


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

512 p.; 7.72 inches


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