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The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin


Emma Russo-Savage works at Wallingford Public Library's Circulation Desk, runs the Game Night gatherings that take place in the Collaboratory twice a month, and is a great reader. Whenever I see her in the staff room on breaks, she is reading, and she is usually (but not always) happy to take a break from her book to tell me about it.  Emma has been stocking one quadrant of North Main Book Nook's Staff Picks display for the past two months, and she wrote the following review of a book she loves: 

"When we say 'the world has ended,' it's usually a lie, because the planet is just fine. But this is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. For the last time." The Fifth Season (The Broken Early, Book #1), by N.K. Jemisin

Books that are written in the second person are few and far between - and books that manage to do this successfully are rarer still. Those particular fantasy books that require a glossary of terms just to understand can be equally hard to pull off, and feel frustratingly self-indulgent for requiring readers to memorize made-up words.

So, to to understand a recommendation of The Fifth Season, you have to realize that author N.K. Jemisin willingly employs both of these conceits - and her writing positively sings, as a result. The shared desperation and humanity of her characters is unavoidably present in every authorial choice she makes. 

The Fifth Season takes place in a world, ironically known as the Stillness, where change is a constant.  Fault-lines riddle the planet, earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis continually destroy and remake the land, and the aftermath can be just as destructive as the actual event. These inevitable apocalypses, known as (fifth) seasons, mean that communities rarely make it out of the bronze age and must maintain rigid caste systems to ensure the survival of humanity. In all this chaos our main characters -- young, hopeful Damaya, jaded angry Syenite, and hardened, hollowed Essun -- all share a dangerous secret.  All three are orogenes, able to control the movements of the earth around them. Their kind are hated and feared by other humans, and when their abilities manifest, they are brutally enslaved so that their abilities can be used to create pockets of geographic safety.

Told through three shifting, cleverly overlapping perspectives, Jemisin’s The Fifth Season takes place at the start of the end of the world. The brilliantly imaginative world-building fades into the background in the face of each character’s fears and triumphs, and desperation and humanity in the face of unavoidable destruction and oppression, become real. In the end, both readers and characters are left with the question: When the world is ending, for the last time, who are you? And who will you become?

The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth, Book #2)
The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth, Book #3)

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