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

Book review

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

I have just finished Jemisin’s Broken Earth. What a world builder she is! The protagonists and dialogue are not even that well written but it all holds together and makes for a fantastic and – as the climate catastrophe reshapes how we perceive our planet – also a quite timely dive into a world in which geography comes alive. Where data and science can only make geosystems understandable on a theoretical base, Broken Earth is the kind of speculative fiction that gives you a feel for it.

The other aspect I enjoyed massively is how Jemisin uses perspectives. The plot has two timelines, one written in third person, one in second person point of view. In the first the experiences of its protagonists are embedded in a world with rules and certainties and history and oppressive hierarchies the young woman main protagonist struggles with. Where the first person story line helps to build the world, the second person one tears it down, or rather: The “you” draws you in as it stumbles through a part or perspective of this world that is falling apart: You are a desoriented, distrustful grown up woman, who has lost children and husband and has become a refugee constantly on the move. I simply love how Jemisin fits these lines together.

One flaw I can’t but mention is how she handles her protagonists: I for one am a bit tired of abuse, psychological and physical torture and the likes as driver of character development, aka “wow, look how strong they became after all that they have suffered.” Don’t get me wrong: If it’s crucial to the story, I am more than fine with violence but in this first book of the trilogy it’s a bit on that side of things. Nevertheless: I love this book.

As I said, the world that Jemisin builds is fantastic, more in the superlative praising sense, than in the literature genre sense: It is not fantasy as an escapist sense, even if it has elements of it. But it hits far too close home than to give you an escape from this world. She builds more of a far future Earth. There are glimpses of a past in “deadciv” objects which are artifacts of dead civilisations and the hostility of the very planet, mythically expressed as “Father Nature,” comes with an undertone of guilt and weight of a well-deserved revenge for past abuse. There is beauty too, threatening as it can’t be physically grasped: huge hovering crystals or obelisks that kept reminding me of the No Man’s Sky cover art. To be honest in my mind I pictured this world in a shattered No Man’s Sky aesthetic with a good mix of afrofuturist glamour and Children of Men raggedness thrown in.

Will definitely read the rest of the Broken Earth saga but first I have two more novels I am really looking forward to: Hollowpox by Morrigan Crow and Kim Stanly Robinson’s The Ministry For The Future.

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