I can look back at a lot of so called dark fantasy and laugh in its face at this point because The Fifth Season is a whole different level. Jemisin had my heart in hand from the first chapter and while I never quite hit tears it can only be explained by my reading in a quiet shock and awe of where she was willing to take us readers. Broken families, casual acts of violence, persecution and exploitation of those with gifts (curses?) is woven into each chapter. This book was never easy to read but always worth the journey. Do I want more? Oh yes please. Just give me a light hearted comedy to cleanse the pallet first (I had a very similar reaction to The Road by Cormac McCarthey).
With three separate plotlines the story focuses on people with the magical abilities that allow them to work with stone and the minerals within them. Those smarter than I should be able to spot the central link that holds the threads together but there is no doubt it is very cleverly crafted in its presentation. Each is compelling on its own; I never turned the page and wished I could go back to that other character’s story.
The world very well could be earth in the far future but doesn’t have to be. There are no hidden Easter eggs to search for, no game of guess the real life location because none of that matters. What does matter is that this is a land that isn’t just post-apocalyptic but is post-apocalyptic many times over; human life has been nearly extinguished more than once and is being challenged yet again within the course of the story. Earth appears to be forever broken, even if it can feign normalcy for a few centuries at a time there are too many factors that can set it all off again.
The Fifth Season is a book about survival, love and lust, duty and cohesion, persecution, and quite a few impressive magical acts. I pity anyone who tries to wrap the plot into a tight little synopsis because it doesn’t lend itself to an easy explanation. Along with its ability to shred my emotions I found one of its most impressive aspects to be how alien it makes the unknown aspects of this world feel. Creatures called stone eaters play a big part in this story line but their motivations are completely unknown to all; the reader gets no insight that the flummoxed characters don’t have. Giant floating obelisks dot the landscape with obvious purpose but no explanation. Even the land’s history is shattered; a combination of lost records and a dominate cultures’ manipulation leaves people in roles without other options. Until of course the land shatters again at which point the Stonelore they follow is nothing more than a guideline.
It is almost trite to talk about characters that seem real at this point; what should be the expectation in a good book is still noteworthy though. I love characters that I care about without knowing if I really like them. Who sometimes do the right thing. Who have obvious soft spots and bias and act upon them or occasionally against them with reluctance. And with a book that focuses on only a few characters these type of characterizations are only more important. Jemisin has given me characters to care about before and she does it here again.
The Fifth Season has been one of my most anticipated books for quite some time. It was delayed for quite a while but I am happy to say it has been well worth the wait. One of the most emotional reads I have had in a long time.
Copy for review provided by publisher.
First posted on Fantasy Review Barn in 2015.