Review: The Fifth Season

19161852Title: The Fifth Season
Author: N.K. Jemisin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A season of endings has begun.
It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world's sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun.
It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.
It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.
This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.

I loved this book, even if it shattered my heart multiple times. Wow.

This book is such a great example of why I am making an effort to read more diverse fantasy and science fiction (both in terms of authors and characters/worlds). There's something just so beautiful about reading and experiencing the world through a voice or a perspective different from the one you usually see. This book follows three women in different points of their lives trying to survive in a very brutal world, one where the earth is not nurturing as much as it is destructive and violent. This world is one full of earthquakes and volcanoes, magic that is correlated with seismic events, and terrifying creatures that are formed of stone. The world is unlike anything else I have ever read, and is built on a system of isolated fortresses and small villages instead of the usual kingdoms, enchanted forests, and bustling sea ports.

I loved that the story focused on women of different ages, because so much fantasy is told from the POV of a child growing into a young man or a warrior in his/her prime. The observations and reflections that come with age and experience are so different from the impulses that govern a child's interactions with her surroundings. It also tells the story of a powerful but incredibly broken and jaded middle-aged man. These are the people we don't usually get to hear stories about, and I really loved how their unique characteristics flavored the way the story was told.

This book is devastating in terms of its depiction of pain and suffering. There is just so much physical and emotional pain in this book. There are tormented characters trying to dissociate themselves from their past actions and a society that tries to hide the cruelty and brutality it perpetuates in the name of keeping people safe. I was so emotionally invested in this book and all the pain was really hard to stomach at times, but somehow this didn't feel like a dark book as much as a heavy one. I can't really articulate the difference very well other than to say dark is what I associate with things like Brent Weeks' Night Angel books (brutal, hopeless, bleak) and heavy is more painful but also more thoughtful, with a little beauty and hope at the end of the tunnel.

I don't want to spoil things, but as you progress through this book, many pieces begin to click into place and things that you knew before suddenly become even more chilling. It's not so much twists as pieces falling into place, and I really like that kind of "aha" moment.

I highly recommend this book and I am looking forward to continuing this series!

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