The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
Posted Fall 2018
I received this book as a Christmas gift this past December (2017). I picked it up briefly, read a few chapters, then put it down. I chalked it up to the book not grabbing me, that perhaps it wasn't for me. Fortunately for me, I am in a speculative fiction book club and the novel was selected by one of the other members. It was declared to be up next, so I tried picking it up again.
Am I ever glad that I did.
This novel is a tour-de-force, and I do not use that term lightly. One of the most fascinating and satisfying devices employed by author N.K. Jemisin is her use of differing tenses and time periods. To explain, the chapters in the book take place from the points of view of a number of seemingly different characters. They have different names, varying places, and other details that work to separate them all. As the book progresses, we learn that the protagonist in each of these chapters is the exact same person, simply at different points in her life. It's not a brand new convention, but it is employed in such a way that the threads weave together in perfect synchronicity, leading up to a final climax that left me shivering with awe.
Racial identity and racism play a huge role in the story, and they are used to highlight the alienation felt by the orogenes, or roggas, of the world. These are magic users who are treated as second class citizens because of there ability to completely warp the world and kill people with with geological magic. I won't get too far down that rabbit hole, but it works fantastically to give the reader a sense of the isolation felt by marginalized people in a given society.
I would have to say that my favourite part of all is the hope promised by the novel. The main character, alternately Damaya, Syenite, and Essun (same person), holds a very negative world view. It has been painted by her treatment as a child, as a hated 'rogga' that is forced to conform to the norms of the society that hates her. The novel starts with a fracturing of that society, a return to the post-apocalyptic hell that is a "fifth season" (and there have been many of these before - set off by varying environmental disasters, where lawlessness, starvation, and even cannibalism are the rules of the day). The novel's hope is demonstrated by the potential to shrug off the dogma of the past, to create some sort of better world where self-determination rather than slavery is a potential outcome for the orogenes. The final chapter is titled, "you're all you need."
If there is truth in this world, it is summed up in that sentence.
An amazing read. I would highly recommend to anyone, fantasy fan or not. Now on to The Obelisk Gate.