Live from the Kansas City Convention Center: Niall Alexander: [“Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall; Death is the Fifth, and Master of All”: The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin]:
An orogene, or—if you want to be a bigot about it, as most of the people of the Stillness do, to be sure—a rogga...
...which is to say someone with “the ability to manipulate thermal, kinetic, and related forms of energy.” Someone like Damaya: a little girl who is summarily taken from her parents and left to flounder in the Fulcrum, an imperial facility for schooling the so-called savages of said supercontinent into submission at the same time as teaching them how to apply their powers. After all, “any infant can move a mountain; that’s instinct. Only a trained Fulcrum orogene can deliberately, specifically, move a boulder.”
Someone, similarly, like Syenite: a young woman commanded to spend “a month on the road with a man she cannot stand, doing things she doesn’t want to do, on behalf of people she increasingly despises.” But this, she’s told, is “what it means to be civilised—doing what her betters say she should, for the ostensible good of all.” Except orogenes, obviously. But hey, they’re not even people, so why should their health or happiness matter?
Someone, last but not least, like Essun: a mother of two who, having hidden her nature for a decade, is forced into action when her husband slaughters their son and runs off with their daughter. In the aftermath of this tragedy, Essun embarks on a journey south in search of something more, be it revenge or redemption; any reason, really, to keep being. She meets a few fellow travellers on the road, of course, including “Tonkee the commless geomest and Hoa the… whatever he is. Because you’re pretty sure by now that he’s not human. That doesn’t bother you; officially speaking, you’re not human, either.”
These, then, are The Fifth Season‘s central perspectives; outcasts all, for no other reason than a quirk of birth, doing their very best to survive in a world that despises difference; a world which has gone so far as to enshrine its hatred in its laws and its languages:
Stonelore is as old as intelligence. It’s all that’s allowed humankind to survive through Fifth Season after Fifth Season, as they huddle together while the world turns dark and cold. The lorists tell stories of what happens when people—political leaders or philosophers or well-meaning meddlers of whatever type—try to change the lore. Disaster invariably results.
Basically: better not do anything to rock the boat, right?...
The Fifth Season isn’t as easy to read as The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was, way back when. As yet, it isn’t as awesome, or as complete, or as immediately appealing, but it is, I think, the most potent and important book N. K. Jemisin has yet penned... a wonderfully worked world, however morally abhorrent it may be, and a cast of cleverly connected characters so tragic that they’re true, it’s a novel as haunting as it is astonishing. In and of itself, I’d recommend The Fifth Season without reservation or hesitation—and as the beginning of something bigger, something still more ambitious, the first book of The Broken Earth lays the foundation for a tremendous trilogy I simply thrill at the thought of continuing.