The Fifth Season’s the Best Fantasy Novel You’ll Read This Year


You may not have heard of N K Jemisin but if you’re even remotely interested in the fantasy genre, you should check out the books she writes. Her book The Fifth Season won the Hugo Award for best novel this year and deservedly so. If you like books such as Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, and are ready for a much more intense, gritty fantasy experience, we can strongly recommend The Fifth Season.

It is set in an alternate Earth, where some people possess the ability to manipulate tectonic plates and harness the power of earth. These people are called orogenes and are a bit like the earthbenders from Avatar: The Last Airbender, except that they live in a world where everyone is scared of their abilities. People in The Fifth Season often kill children if they demonstrate abilities of an orogene. If the children are lucky, they’re locked up until one of the guardians show up. These guardians appear to be the true rulers of the world as they can negate the power of orogenes.

Taking power away from the most powerful people in the world works wonders for The Fifth Season, which is the first book in The Broken Earth series. There’s a profound sense of injustice and oppression right from the beginning. You tend to wonder why everyone is so scared of orogenes and why they can’t be free. Just when you think the tale is one-sided, the story reveals some shocking truths.

Jemisin employs some fascinating narrative techniques in The Fifth Season. It starts with a second-person narrative that took us some time to get used to. Instead of referring to the protagonist – Essun – by the third-person “she” or the first-person “I”, the author refers to her as “you”. We haven’t read many books where this narrative was employed and that’s probably one reason why we liked it a lot.

The book starts with a shocking, gruesome murder. Couple that with this second-person narrative and you get really involved in the book right from the beginning. The Earth in The Fifth Season is a single, unbroken continent. That changes right at the beginning of the novel as some unknown powers break this continent. This leads to volcanoes erupting and the resultant ash spreading around the world starts the fifth season: extinction-level events in the book.

These events have occurred many times already in the book and humanity has somehow managed to survive. Each surviving generation records survival tips referred to as stonelore. As soon as the fifth season begins, the laws of the land change.

We really loved the fact that Jemisin doesn’t spend too much time explaining these changes. Laws change, calm animals turn into feral beasts, society is on the verge of collapse, but all the answers you get happen as the story unfolds. This narrative style reminded us of The Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson. That’s a far darker series with no handholding. All your questions are answered in due course, when the author feels you need to know something. This kept us reading the Malazan series, and it works just as well with The Broken Earth series.

There are plenty of terms such as orogenes, and sessing that you’ll have to get used to while reading. This is common when it comes to fantasy novels – each one seems to have its own new phrases and many times entire new languages. However, in The Fifth Season, none of the terms get in the way of the story. You’ll easily get used to them thanks to the way the characters say things or how the narrator uses these words.

Many characters in The Fifth Season have a bit of depth. Take for example Essun. Her grief doesn’t blind her entirely. You can sense the character struggling and fighting to keep moving and focus on her objective. Every step is hard for her but she keeps going and breaks down only when she’s in a relatively safe place. Even through her grief she finds strength to help others.

Then there is Alabaster. For someone with such immense power Alabaster is surprisingly sensitive. His isn’t the typical alpha-male role at all. The system has broken him. Although he rarely talks about it, you can sense that he’s struggling with his past all the time.

Perhaps one of the best things about The Fifth Season is that at a time when genre is increasingly aimed at teens, this is not your typical young-adult fiction. Too often in fantasy novels you’ll find people obsessing over how handsome or beautiful characters are and what they’re wearing. There’s no such developments in The Fifth Season. It progresses fast from one part of the story to another, with a big surprise along the way. It also has one of the most abrupt endings we’ve seen in a book. If you get through it, we guarantee that you will find yourself picking up The Obelisk Gate, the second book in the series.

The Fifth Season by N K Jemisin is available via Amazon India at roughly Rs. 675, Flipkart at roughly Rs. 900, and other book stores.

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