The Fifth Season
August 14, 2016 12:43 PM - by N. K. Jemisin - Subscribe

THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS... FOR THE LAST TIME. A season of endings has begun. It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world's sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun. It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter. It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester. This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.

Given the imminent release of the second book of the series, I figured this would be a good time to reread and discuss what happened in the first one.
posted by dinty_moore (33 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
How does this compare to the Inheritance trilogy? I thought The Hundred Thousands Kingdoms was pretty decent but not as stunningly awesome as the reaction to it seemed to suggest. Is this better/worse/the same quality?
posted by Justinian at 3:49 PM on August 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I liked the Fifth Season more - it has less of the standard epic fantasy format, and some of the themes were a bit more subtle (and are more effective because of it). Both books have the powered people in chains theme. I think I was less surprised by the reveals in the Fifth Season than I was in the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
posted by dinty_moore at 5:49 PM on August 14, 2016


The Fifth Season is way darker and much more structurally complicated, either of which may be pluses or minuses depending on taste. I loved it (and I only liked The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, although the sequels worked better for me. I do want to reread it one of these days, because I suspect I missed stuff.)
posted by restless_nomad at 6:50 PM on August 14, 2016


I'll give this one a shot, then. I thought THTK showed promise.
posted by Justinian at 7:19 PM on August 14, 2016


I just started The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (which is fantastic!) because I was so impressed with The Fifth Season. I like Jemisin's take on -isms; she effectively channels her own experiences gracefully (so, not heavy handed... much).

Felt that Season was a breath of fresh air in the fantasy genre, although really, I think that it can wear the 'speculative fiction' badge with pride - an interesting premise and a deep story unfolds within the internally consistent structure.

But, wow. Dark and uncomfortable.

Really looking forward to the second book, not the least because of the great last line in this one.
posted by porpoise at 9:24 AM on August 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


TFS is way better than 100k, in my opinion. Better than the Dreamblood books too, which I place above 100k because I liked the setting a lot.

That said, TFS was also the best book I've read all year, at least. I can't shut up about how awesome this book was. It pushed all my buttons: Geology! Chemistry! How industrialization of certain types of magic would tend toward the horrific!

And one of the POVs is in second person and you don't even care because it's just that good. *happy sigh* And I don't even usually like "dark" books. And yeah this book is dark. Not unrelentingly so, but it literally begins "Let's start with the end of the world, why don't we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things." and then right after that a mother discovers her murdered son's body.

Hopefully the Obelisk Gate arrives in my mailbox tomorrow, as I am nearly done what I'm currently reading and am travelling this weekend.
posted by quaking fajita at 10:02 AM on August 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


I started rereading this, and it loses nothing when you know in advance what the narrative tricks are. I'm about 50 pages in right now, and I feel like I've read those 50 pages in no time at all. There's a lot going on here, but it still manages to be a page-turner.
posted by tofu_crouton at 2:43 PM on August 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'm rereading it now, and there were definitely things I missed the first time around, and more that I've forgotten (which seems thematically appropriate)
posted by dinty_moore at 3:07 PM on August 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Speaking of how dark this book is:

The chapter with the guardian and Damaya - where it starts out with a man telling a child a story and quickly moves to the man torturing the child and being prepared to kill her - and making sure Damaya knows that, and tells Damaya that it's for her own good. . . I don't want to say it's one of my favorite chapters, because it is so incredibly brutal and horrible, but it's definitely the one I think about most from this book. Because we have all of these stories in our culture about children that are othered somehow, hated by the culture at large because of it, and then are saved by some mysterious people who take them somewhere else and train them to be 'better'. And they're nice - those schools are definitely positioned to be the side of good.

But we've also had schools like that in our collective history - for aboriginal and native peoples especially - and the depiction of the Fulcrum is far closer to the truth as to how they were than Hogwarts or Xavier's academy would be.

I also don't really mind the second person because it is so disassociating and Essun is so obviously not completely processing everything that it works. There's a section at chapter three where she's trying to think about who she should be now (before deciding to remain Essun for the time being), and considering the structure of the book, of course she thinks about it this way.
posted by dinty_moore at 5:58 AM on August 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


In the past year, I've seen this book mentioned several times because of its use of the second person. I remember Jemisin complaining on Twitter about people who outright refuse to read any fiction in the second person. This confused me because I barely remembered the book being in the second person at all...

Now that I'm rereading it, I can see why that aspect managed to fade from my memory. Unlike other uses of the second person I've seen, it's not quirky, it's not self-conscious about its use. It flows naturally in a way that makes me wonder why the second person is usually so irksome.

The fact that it's not a quirk also makes me wonder why Jemisin uses it. My theory at the moment is that it allows for the emotional immediacy of the first person while allowing her to conceal information more easily.

Unrelated, but this passage really makes my breath catch in my throat:

Tell them they can be great someday, like us. Tell them they belong to us, no matter how we treat them. Tell them they must earn respect which everyone else receives by default. Tell them there is a standard for acceptance; that standard is simply perfection. Kill those who scoff at these contradictions, and tell the rest that the dead deserved annihilation for their weakness and doubt. Then they'll break themselves trying for what they'll never achieve.
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:55 AM on August 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


Just started this one, so I haven't read anything else in the thread. I'm very excited for it, though. Jemisin always creates such interesting worlds to put her interesting characters in.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:42 PM on August 17, 2016


As I get further into the book, I remember that it's one of the reasons I hold such a grudge against Seveneves. I read them closely together, and everything that book does wrong, Fifth Season does right.
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:30 PM on August 17, 2016


I got this from Amazon today.

Well actually I got 2 of them. Oops. Yeah, I ordered it twice apparently.

You're welcome, N.K. Jemisin.
posted by Justinian at 1:21 PM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


As I get further into the book, I remember that it's one of the reasons I hold such a grudge against Seveneves. I read them closely together, and everything that book does wrong, Fifth Season does right.

Item 1: I picked up The Fifth Season from the library on the same day, two days before this FanFare was posted, having never heard of the book before or read anything by the author

Item 2: The other book I picked up that day was Seveneves

Item 3: I read them both back-to-back.

I don't know what to make of this...


Anyway, yes. This book is everything Seveneves isn't, and is much better for it. The book it most reminded me of is the Mistborn series- it's a crapsack broken world held together by an regime that uses horrible magic to exert control. A+, will read the sequel.
posted by BungaDunga at 5:02 PM on August 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


Oh hey. This book just won a Hugo.
posted by eyeballkid at 9:13 PM on August 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Imma leave my extra copy out in public somewhere as guerilla marketing.
posted by Justinian at 1:50 PM on August 21, 2016


Has the little free library trend hit wherever you are, Justinian? It's a good way to have people actually pick it up instead of having them just assume someone left their book somewhere.
posted by dinty_moore at 2:13 PM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


I loved reading this book: and yes, I think it's far better than Jemisin's other work. I read her first book, which I liked well enough, but not enough to read the rest of the trilogy. I really liked the Dreamblood novels, but I thought The Fifth Season was a real step up for her in terms of structure and narrative pacing. It's seriously ambitious, and just really really cool.

Cannot wait for my local library to get The Obelisk Gate.
posted by suelac at 4:34 PM on August 21, 2016


I reread this for before starting on the Obelisk Gate. Some thoughts on a second read (obviously, spoilers)

Can I say how I love the last sentence? It exemplifies the ambition others allude to.

It is interesting to reread it knowing what lies in store or in the past for each viewpoint character. On my first read, I realised pretty quickly that the viewpoint characters were the same person, and this time I kept picking up small clues about how the various stages of her life informed the person she became.

The biggest challenge in hiding a plot point in plain sight, undoubtedly, was how to deal with Corundum. On rereading the book and knowing what happens to him, I'm not entirely sure that this was plausibly handled in the Essun viewpoint. But forgivably so; it was a huge challenge.

I wonder why Corundum was given a Fulcrum name - surely his parents would have all preferred to stay away from that tradition?

I thought it interesting that the secondary characters - notably Innon - were not drawn in particular detail or with emotional depth. Having read everything Jemisin is written I think this is partly attributable to her writing style. But I think it works particularly well in The Fifth Season where the viewpoint characters see other people in this world in bold strokes. There is very little emotion in how Damaya/ Syenite/ Essun see other people, even when they care for them, so this feels very plausible.

I hate Alabaster's nickname. Baster? Really? I suppose 'Al' would have been a little informal for his high-tragic character, but why have a nickname at all?
posted by tavegyl at 8:51 PM on August 24, 2016


I just finished my own reread, and I have a lot of thoughts on it, but for now I just want a moment to contemplate that awesomeness that is Binof.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:59 AM on August 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


Just read it for the first time. The closing sentence reminds me of the end of my favorite Iain M Banks book, Feersum Endjinn. For some reason I expected it, maybe due to hints here on MeFi?
posted by migurski at 2:58 PM on August 27, 2016


Finished this a couple of days ago. Yeah, that Hugo was well-deserved. Hell of a last line, too.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:39 PM on August 27, 2016


I hate Alabaster's nickname. Baster?

Well, given the reason that he's assigned to be Syenite's mentor...
posted by tobascodagama at 5:47 PM on August 27, 2016


For those who like sausage-making, NK Jemisin put up a post about her motivation for the novel's chronological structure and its handling of the viewpoint character.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:36 AM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Just finished this; just ordered the Obelisk Gate. Not counting re-reads, I have not read fantasy (or even fiction) in a really long time, and surprisingly, it felt like a good use of time!

I have so many questions! Was the moon really not mentioned at all previous to the end? Was blowing up the moon the thing that caused the first Season? Was it blown up with the obelisks? Are the stone eaters from the moon?

Don't tell me yet, Obelisk Gate readers! I just want to drop my crazy moon questions here for posterity.
posted by ignignokt at 6:06 PM on November 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


There's a very oblique reference to the Moon in an early interlude chapter, but it's not actually mentioned. Rather, the narrator of that section alludes to its absence from a list of things that appeared in the background of the preceding chapter.

MOON.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:00 PM on November 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


I have so many questions! Was the moon really not mentioned at all previous to the end? Was blowing up the moon the thing that caused the first Season? Was it blown up with the obelisks? Are the stone eaters from the moon?

So I read the ebook of this, and about 2/3rds of the way through there is mention of a myth that Father Earth is mad because he lost his one true love or something, and I thought "Of course! Losing the moon would absolutely cause the kind of geological upheavals that this world is going through." So I ctrl-F'ed "Moon" to see if any of the characters had ever mentioned it, and spoilered the last line for myself. :(

This book is clearly the best I've read this year, and maybe one of my favorites of all time. Can't wait to dig in to the sequel.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:31 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]


I've just now finished this and loved it, about to start the second.

I couldn't help feeling that this world could be a very very very dark and adult version of Steven Universe.
posted by OHenryPacey at 2:22 PM on April 5 [1 favorite]


N. K. Jemisin: I have a story for you. Many of the major characters are people of color with incredible
magical powers and the lead is a black woman!
Me: Oh, cool!
N. K. Jemisin: They are slaves and everybody hates them!
Me: O...oh!
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:09 PM on April 14


You know, the more I think about it the more I come to the conclusion that this book has some pretty questionable views on slavery.

Basically, its pretty obvious that the happiest time in the main character's life is when she was Syenite, four-ring tool of the Fulcrum. Being sent away to Monster Boot Camp was an improvement from her previous childhood, even before she was relegated to the barn. In the Fulcrum she had purpose, she had status, she was obviously on her way up if she was pulled to breed with Alabaster. I feel like even after what she saw in the node station she would have been perfectly happy to go back to the Fulcrum and get her fifth ring. Its only when the guardians decide to put her down that runs. She was a slave, she loved it, and even after she left she still thinks of herself in their terms, like when Alabaster basically says "If you were a slave still you'd totally have this many collars now" and she takes it as a compliment.

If it were just that, I'd chalk it up to Stockholm Syndrome and pity her, but there's more. Throughout the book whenever she's able to make her own decisions they're almost invariably terrible. She decides to lift up the garnet obelisk despite having no idea what might happen, which is what prompts the Guardians to put her down in the first place. She shuts down the volcano that's obviously been left as a honeypot and does it in view of the shore, leading the guardians right to her, but also in such a way that they would've all died if not for Alabaster's help. After that fiasco she almost immediately finds a Comm and settles down with a man she (rightly) refuses to trust with her secret and has two children who also are doomed to live in secret. She does this despite knowing there are Comms out there where Orogens can live openly. Shit, she gets a job as a teacher when she's obviously terrible with children. Ultimately I'm left with the impression that not only was she happiest as a slave, but she should also not be trusted to make her own decisions.

It's a bit amusing, especially when you consider the author wanted to make a middle-aged black woman a likeable and relatable main character. I found her ultimately unlikeable in the end, and from what I've read so far of the next book I'm not even sure how important she'll be in the end with how her also-unlikeable daughter is being set up.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 11:02 PM on April 14


I generally agree with you that the characters - and especially the main one - is not likable or relatable. However, I'm not sure that this is what Jemisin is after:

It's a bit amusing, especially when you consider the author wanted to make a middle-aged black woman a likeable and relatable main character.


I think the character emerges from two different points of origin. One is that Jemisin is trying to show how personality gets warped by a cruel and profoundly unequal society. The other is that Jemisin is heavily influenced by the tradition of grimdark fantasy. Much of her work is responding to its tropes with regard to race, gender and inequality, but she does retain that central nihilistic idea of a shit world full of shit people doing shit things, with an underlying subtext of 'that's just the way the world is'. I find that certainty interesting as it's a mirror image of epic fantasy - or even Golden Age sf - in which there is a certainty that a better world did or will or can exist.

Now George RR Martin does manage to make, say, Tyrion a much beloved character despite doing really repellent things, but I don't think Jemisin is interested in likability in the same way.
posted by tavegyl at 7:51 AM on April 15 [4 favorites]


There's a new POV character introduced in Book 2 that makes it very clear that Essun is emphatically not supposed to be likable.

The POV choices in these books are very deliberate.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:33 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]


I don't want this to turn into a pile-on, but I think it's also worth addressing the first two points:

N. K. Jemisin: I have a story for you. Many of the major characters are people of color with incredible
magical powers and the lead is a black woman!
Me: Oh, cool!
N. K. Jemisin: They are slaves and everybody hates them!


I'd have to reread to double check how explicit this is, but I'm pretty sure the majority of the people in the book are various shades of brown, with maybe the exception of Schaffa and Hoa. There's the occasional person who is described as Antarctic/Arctic (i.e., white), but Essun/Syenite/Damaya, her husbands, her children, her parents, the other villagers, the other Guardians at the fulcrum - few, if any, of them are white. The Erogene mutation explicitly doesn't follow skin color - the fact that the erogenes we meet in this book are multiracial or black is more a factor of the fact that this is a book that is not centered on whiteness that deals with oppression than just mimicking the African-American historical experience (which, I mean, it's also about the African-American historical experience, but not a direct a-to-b sort of thing).

Nonetheless, it is a book about powerful brown people being oppressed, even if it is largely by other brown people. And what you seem to be asking - why someone would create powerful people and put them in chains - I think I should start with saying that Jemisin does this a lot. Gods in chains is kind of her thing. And, I don't know how explicit this is - I'd have to double check if she's written anything about this, but it seems like a way of fighting the implicit rationalization of oppression that the oppressed deserve to be that way, or are somehow less than their oppressors, because if they were equally strong/smart/whatever, they'd stop their oppressors from oppressing them. I mean, you hear people wondering how the hell one plantation owner could keep hundreds of slaves under his power without them rising up, or how 20% of South Africa could manage to keep Apartheid intact for so long, or why the poor remain poor. . . and it's not because poor people or Black people are stupid or weak or anything. So take away that rationalization that victim blames the oppressors by creating characters that are far more powerful than the average person . . . how do modes of oppression replicate themselves generation after generation? That's what this book is about - it is definitely not a power fantasy.

And I think that this leads me to your next point:

You know, the more I think about it the more I come to the conclusion that this book has some pretty questionable views on slavery.

I find your assertion that she was happiest in her life when she was a slave a little odd - Syenite was more emotive than Essun, but she was also seriously bitter. It's hard to say when Essun was happiest because she compartmentalizes every single thing in her life, but I'd guess it was during the time on the island comm (where it seemed like she was at least sort of healing) - or as Damaya before Shaffa breaks her hand. She was happy-ish right before the start of the novel. But Essun, in general, has not been a happy person. A lot of this book is about how systemic oppression shapes a person. Thinking she's a slave years after escaping slavery isn't really an indication of slavery being a good thing - it's just another indication of how hard it can be to escape that mindset. The fact that she is proud of her power even though it can only be conveyed in Fulcrum terms is another facet of her oppression. She's cold, hard, distant, and yeah, unlikable.

I definitely don't get the impression that we're supposed to think the Fulcrum system was a good thing. I don't think Essun thinks so, considering how desperate she is never to return to the Fulcrum. I don't think even Syenite thinks so - it's just that Syenite is so bent on surviving through it that she doesn't want to think about the big picture, she compartmentalizes it away.

I'm also curious as to what comms you're thinking about where she could live openly. Another island comm? The one she knew about wasn't safe for her (also possibly completely destroyed? It's been a while). She's not too horrible at making decisions, or she'd be dead by now.

Ultimately, Essun's not supposed to be a very likable protagonist, but she should be an understandable one. Obviously, mileage may vary, but I don't think the character or the implications are as dire as you make them out to be.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:21 PM on April 15 [6 favorites]


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