Hey blog browsers! It’s Tayler, back with another installment of my Fantasy Leisure Reading series. Last month, I chose a title that walked the line between fantasy and realism in an attempt to ease in new fantasy readers, but this month I’m going all in. Full on fantasy. The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin, the first installment of the Broken Earth trilogy, was published in 2015 and won the Hugo Award for Best Novel the following year. In short, my praise means little compared to the honors this title has already been given, but I still want to give it a plug. I had this book on my reading list for over a year before I finally read it over this past summer and I was not disappointed. Jemisin’s novel captured my imagination.
It’s set in a world that is ravaged by a history of devastating environmental catastrophes that both alter climate and drastically change social structures. The novel opens on the incitement of a new catastrophe, a rift that splits the earth under the capital of the Sanze empire, destroying the seat of power and sending a seismic wave through the entirety of the continent. This continent was once home to two species of humanoids, those with and without innate earth-bending abilities. Those with such magic, called orogenes, are ostracized by those without, confined to either live in secret or be taken to the capital and serve as tools and weapons for the non-magic leadership under the guise of magic education. With this world as a backdrop, the novel follows three timelines. The first is Essun, a hidden orogene woman who must embark on a quest in the post-catastrophic world to find her kidnapped daughter after her husband murders their infant son for showing signs of seismic magic. The second is Syenite, an orogene woman training at the Fulcrum, the “school” set up for captured orogenes in the capital, who is forced into sex service intended to breed powerful weapons for the non-magic empire. The final timeline is Damaya, a young orogene girl who is feared by her family and given over to the mercy of the Fulcrum.
While all this plot and world-building may be a little overwhelming for those new to the genre, I highly recommend this novel and its subsequent series. Jemisin creates an incredibly immersive fantasy experience while somehow maintaining links to our current social climate. The dynamic between orogenes and humans was most intriguing to me. The humans fear the power of the orogenes so they imprison them, harness their magic for their own gain, punish them for abilities they have no control over. The oppressors fear the power of those they oppress. Jemisin also places three complex female leads at the core of her novel, which, working in a genre that often leans on patriarchal kingdom structures, transcends what may be expected of her world and its characters. I’ve found a subversion of medieval social tropes to be a growing trend in fantasy literature, and, as a writer who seeks to continue that trend, I was inspired by Jemisin’s novel.
I love fantasy because it allows me to enter and traverse strange new worlds, but sometimes escapism comes full circle. Through entering the world of The Fifth Season, I was able to reflect on my own world and my place in it as a writer. If I’ve intrigued you with this title, which I hope I have, prepare for a journey.
Future Female in Fantasy signing off.
(Cover art by Lauren Panepinto)