The Fifth Season #

The Fifth Season is a book by N.K. Jemisin, first book in the Broken Earth trilogy, that I read in February 2019. I also read the second and third books in the series, which won the Hugo Award, the most prestigious award for science fiction writing, three years in a row, the first time anyone has achieved this, and Jemisin is the first black winner of the Hugo award.

The story, which I thoroughly recommend, is set in a strange world called the Stillness, which is characterised by frequent and catastrophic tectonic activity. Humans group together in small communities which are well-prepared for climate disaster and the world is held together by orogenes, human-like beings who have the special ability to reshape the earth by harnessing geothermal energy.

I loved the book for a few reasons. I’ve always been fascinated by real, deep and detailed worldbuilding, and Jemisin has built a fascinating world, inhabited by believable and highly conflicted characters, all with their own tribal conflicts and histories. Her descriptions of orogeny, the power used by orogenes to shape the world, is brilliant, and the mystery surrounding the origin of this power, and of the world itself, and the ambiguity around whether it is actually a far-future Earth or an entirely different planet, serves as a really great source of mystery and tension.

But the really interesting element of the book is not related at all to the science fiction. The orogenes are a highly discriminated race, and the parallels between their treatment at the hands of the human inhabitants of the Stillness and the history of African-Americans in the United States are striking. Oregenes are used for their labor by ordinary humans, harnessed and forced to dull the effects of tectonic activity so life can continue relatively normally.

Writing fantasy is something I’ve thought of doing for a while, and have dabbled in, and books like Jemisin’s are the ones that make me think of returning to it. There is something so special about a lovingly created detailed world that exists only in your head, and that process of getting it out and showing it to others. We all do this from time to time, sharing our fears and our desires and our quirks with people we are close to, letting them into our own inner worlds. But the fantasy writer has the beautiful privilege of showing their world to everyone who picks up and is enthralled by their book.

For those who enjoy that feeling of immersion in a deep and fascinating world, I cannot recommend this book more highly.