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

When I was looking for philosophical fantasy, I got recommended this book. At first, I was questioning where was the philosophy I was promised, but I stopped looking for it and stopped hurrying through the story, and I found it. While the message and the criticism towards environmental, political, and racial issues aren’t hidden, it is easy to get caught with the mysterious narrative and ignore what is staring you right in the face. The narrative style and the second-person use are the only criticism I have of this book. The second-person narrative wasn’t really for me. I had a more hard time relating to it than the other point of views told from the third-person perspective. This is not because Jemisin wrote them poorly, far from it. The prose is excellent. It is soft, precise, warm, on to the point, critical, and approachable. The inability to relate to the you-point-of-view was because of me, I don’t care people telling me what to think, feel, and see. So there was a significant distance between Essun and me, which hindered my engagement with the story line. I get why it was done so, and as a writer, I tip my hat to the wonderfully told story, but as a reader, I couldn’t relate.

Having got that off my chest, I can move on to analyze the book. It is difficult to go too deep because the narrative is driven by the mystery of how every point of view relates to each other and to the story. So the personal and characters have to be set aside. But what I can talk about is the world-building, which gives the reader a new take on dystopia and dying earth stories. There is a system where the Father Earth is not so stable, earthquakes, tears, dying lands, and mysterious creatures make it hard to live on the planet. (Not sure if it is a planet, but for the sake of this review, I see it as one.) This wasn’t used to be the case, but because people carelessly started to poison their planet, the Father Earth got angry. Amongst all this are those who can harness the power of the earth to their advantage and cause things like earthquakes (and soothe them as well.) They, Orogenes, are both hated, feared, and slaved for their powers. One of the strongest scenes in the book was where an Orogene child, Damaya, is bought from her parents and taken to Fulcrum. This moment in the book mirrors the history of our world, how children are bought and sold for servitude, and their body and mind are used for other people’s personal gain. It would be nice to say that such a thing doesn’t happen any longer, but that would be blinding our eyes and liking to believe in a fairy tale that all is good in the world. The whole The Fifth Season is a warning where greed for power and money can get us. Also, how fear and ignorance can fuel the hate and hurt, and both hinder the nation as a whole (not to mention those who suffer from it) and advance those who are to gain from it. Again, I would love to write that this is parallel to history, but the truth is it is identical to what is happening now. Hench back to the question of philosophy, this book is spiced with compelling argumentation of why greed, ignorance, bigotry, and racism will only lead to destruction. The personal message I would take away from this book is that don’t be ignorant, learn from things, and not only from one source. Try to see the world from a broader perspective, and maybe then we wouldn’t fear the other and poison our own planet.

I enjoyed the book on so many levels: the superficial glamour of a new magical system, the deeper construction of criticism, and the prose, but what hindered my engagement was the narrative. It didn’t suck me in as I wanted it to. I wasn’t fully engaged. The mystery dragged on too long for my liking, and the second-person point of view was alienating. Yet, despite that, I would be a sorry person if I hadn’t read this book. So, next time you see it, pick it up, and do read it.

Thank you for reading! Be kind both to your fellow human beings and nature, and have a great day.

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