The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin is the first of her Broken Earth series. If you didn’t know by now, this book is the winner of the 2016 Hugo Award, something that the author is definitely proud of I’m sure. Prior to reading The Fifth Season, I had no idea who the author is. No idea even if the author was male or female. Heck, I didn’t even know what the book was about! I only discovered it when it was announced as the winner of the Hugo Award and from there, it was history. Therefore, I consider myself coming in as unbiased a reader as possible. There definitely was a lot of hype though. The book must be something special to win such an prestigious award. Being a veteran reader though, I’ve learned to quell much of the expectation as I’ve been disappointed before and I didn’t want that happening here. Was I right in doing so? The answer is yes, I was.
The Fifth Season tells of a story where the Earth gets destroyed again and again due to a cataclysm type event that literally rips everything apart. An event that happens to cause the Earth’s inhabitants to survive by listening to advice written on stone that has been passed on by generations before them. Add in a mix of specially born individuals with the special power to “feel” and draw power from the Earth beneath them and you’ve got something that feels a bit like a teen novel you’ve read from somewhere before. However, the tone here in The Fifth Season is much more somber and depressing. This is actually something I like though as it fits the story that much more better. When a disaster event that can cause the Earth’s inhabitants to go into hibernation for hundreds or even thousands of years, you don’t expect the characters to be always giddy with excitement. For this I praise the author for.
Unfortunately, after the excitement that usually comes when starting a new novel such as getting to know the main characters a bit more, adjusting to the mood and atmosphere of the world within and some of the issues and problems we are facing with, the magic seemed to suddenly fade away, if only slowly, in the later chapters. Part of the problem in my opinion is that the author tries to do a little bit too much of character building and not enough storytelling, if that makes sense. Because of this, we get hints of things to come and are patiently waiting for it to happen only because there’s really nothing else much to go on. Not a matter of if but when. Character wise, it can get a little weird in the beginning but things do get explained at the end. It wasn’t really to my satisfaction but I felt that it didn’t really matter at that point. Although orogenes have powers that normal humans don’t, I’m glad the author didn’t expose this too much and made it into an all-out war between these gifted/cursed individuals. For the most part, the story revolves around survival first and foremost and not focused on action or creating epic fight scenes. The characters largely remain rooted to the ground (no pun intended).
In the end though, I just felt that The Fifth Season was just not my type of science fiction. It moves at a very slow pace, which I don’t actually mind in a good book but the journey itself must be meaningful in some way or another to me and not just me treating it as any other book. The Fifth Season unfortunately didn’t hit this spot. The author in my opinion needs to refine her craft of describing things/scenes without making it sound too boring and lengthy. Very few authors I’ve come across has actually mastered this craft and I mention this because the author is not new to the scene. She has several other books/series under her belt prior to The Fifth Season. With all that being said though, I highly doubt I will be continuing on with the series. The Fifth Season has got some things going for it at times but falters in many others.