When you read enough books in the same genre, it can sometimes be hard to find a book in that group which feels fresh without also feeling like you’ve jumped the rails and started reading another genre entirely. The tropes become worn, the arcs become rote, and it can be hard to find that spark that got you interested in the genre in the first place.
Then a book like “The Fifth Season” comes along and reminds you.
If you run in fantasy circles, this probably isn’t going to be the first time you’ve heard someone recommending “The Fifth Season”, the first book in “The Broken Earth” trilogy by N. K. Jemisin. And for good reason: Not only is it a Hugo award winner, but its two sequels are also Hugo winners, making Jemisin the first (and only) author to have won the award three years in a row.
So, all I’m really trying to do here is signal-boost a bit to let anyone who hasn’t already heard of this book know that it’s absolutely worth the read.
“The Fifth Season” doesn’t break the mold, it instead feels like it rebuilt the mold from scratch. To describe its synopsis, then, would do it little justice. (Stop me if you’ve heard this one: It’s set in a fantasy world with a unique twist to the environment, there’s a special group of feared magic users who all get trained at a wizard’s college to control their great and terrible powers, bureaucrats with a dagger behind every smile, and a race of mythic humanoids with strange motivations and stranger powers.)
No, where “The Fifth Season” succeeds is in taking all these well worn ideas, breaking them down to their component parts, and reminding readers why they’re such effective story tools to begin with. Jemisin displays almost complete mastery over the genre, knowing both how to set up the pins and how to knock them down.
In certain parts, the book lets you in on some secrets, rewarding readers for being familiar with certain tropes, but then it’ll let the penny drop and throw you completely off guard for having ever thought you knew where the story was going next. Even being very familiar with the genre and knowing where the story was going in general, this mix of surprise and familiarity kept me on my toes throughout the story, because even when I thought I knew what to expect, I could never be certain when Jemisin was going to pull the rug out from under me to reveal something I’d never have expected.
I haven’t gotten to read the two sequels, (“The Obelisk Gate” and “The Stone Sky”) yet, but you can bet they’re the next two things on my reading list.