Blogland, I am so excited to talk about this book today! Prepare for spoilers!
Now, I was shelving some New Books at the library when I came across this one. I had never heard of N.K. Jemisin before, nor any of her other works. But, the cover and synopsis intrigued me, so I flipped through its pages to find that a major part of the story is told in second person, present tense.
Hold up. Wait a minute.
Second person. Present tense.
What the shit?
I had to take it home.
Turns out, the entire story is told in present tense, which is misleading as hell, by the way. I’ve never read Epic Fantasy like this before, and I absolutely loved it. The story follows three women at various ages. Damaya, the young girl who is swept from her family and previous life because she is an Orogene. This is a type of magic, though it’s broken down more into a science by the end of the book, that allows people to wield rock and stone.
They made me think of Earthbenders from Avatar: The Last Airbender.
So, Damaya is swept to what seems like an Orogene academy called the Fulcrum by a terrifying man named Schaffa; her Guardian. He makes it clear that, though he seems to care for her, he won’t hesitate to hurt or kill her if it means protecting others from her lack of control. It’s the only way of life for Orogenes. They live within the Fulcrum’s walls, only leaving when they are sent on missions to aid normal humans, or Stills, with removing landslides and coral obstructions. Things like that. Damaya shows us what the Fulcrum is like as she learns to wield her powers.
Then there’s Syenite. She’s in her mid-twenties, give or take, and she’s been given an assignment outside of the Fulcrum. She is to travel with another Orogene, a master named Alabaster Tenring, to a coastal town whose harbor has been obstructed by a coral formation. Also, she’s to conceive a child with Alabaster during the trip.
Welcome to life as an Orogene.
So she travels with the man, hoping to learn from him, even if he proves to be completely disagreeable. I personally enjoyed his character, but Syenite ends up loathing him. He constantly poses impossible scenarios and threatens the only way of life Syenite has ever known. Also, she’s convinced he’s insane.
And then there’s Essun. It’s her tale that’s told in second person, and it’s a tragic one. We meet her in her home, cradling the body of her three year old son. Her husband, Jija, beat the boy to death when he found out he was a Rogga (a racial slur for Orogenes). Essun had kept her nature from her husband, and had convinced her two children Nassun and Uche to do the same. Except, Uche was too young and too powerful to keep his abilities a secret. When Essun discovered him, a part of her broke, and we get to witness it all in the very gripping second person, literally putting the reader in Essun’s shoes.
But, when she finally comes back to her fractured and fucked up reality, Essun realizes that Nassun, her daughter is missing. And so is Jija. So she sets out to find her husband, the murderer of her child, and to rescue her daughter. If she’s still alive.
So the story bounces between these three characters, all told in present tense. But, as the perspectives go on, you realize they’re not all taking place in the current time. Because a major earthquake has decimated the capital city of Yumenes, in the heart of the Fulcrum. Essun knows this, and she knows that it’s set off the Fifth Season.
The Seasons are a natural phenomenon of the world. They’re cataclysms, which take place every few hundred years or so, and usually decimates the population. Sanze, the current government, is the only one in history to have survived so many Seasons intact.
But, Essun knows that this shake wasn’t a natural occurrence. It never should have happened in Yumenes. There are no faults, no quakes in the center of the continent. No, a Rogga of immense power destroyed Yumenes and set off this Season. And this is the state of the world she faces as she hunts for her lost daughter.
But, Damaya’s tale takes place in the Fulcrum, which the Shake destroyed. And Syenite recently left the Fulcrum, and is still working for them. Which tells the reader that their stories take place before the destruction of Yumenes.
And then, about three-quarters through the book, the reader realizes that Damaya and Syenite are the same person. And by the very end, of course…
They’re all the same person. They’re all Essun. They’re all you. Just at various stages of life. And each perspective is crucial to the development of the overall plot. Not just Essun’s hunt for Nassun, but about the fate of the world and the cause of the Shake.
This book pretty much blew my mind.
Through three different perspectives, all of the same person, the world is introduced, the rules explained. Details and facts are presented, and you don’t question them because you think of them as separate. Individual. And by the end you can’t even begin to deny how well everything fits together. How didn’t you see that they were all the same person?
And what does that mean for the rest of the story?
I can’t wait to find out. The Obelisk Gate is set to come out late this summer, with a tentative release date of August 16, 2016. Which I found out today as I searched for pictures for this post, and pretty much made my day.
Something else I want to point out that I think is really important to the success of this book. The characters are all black. This is an Epic Fantasy told by a black woman, featuring black women. And it’s so amazing! To see the descriptions and picture these characters, and to know and love them is incredibly valuable to the genre. I’m so accustomed to fiction written by white men, featuring white characters, that I didn’t realize how badly I wanted diversity in my fantasy fiction. This alone made The Fifth Season worth reading for me.
But, the book is amazing even without considering its diversity. Great world-building, character development, and a magic that follows set rules. It’s everything I want in fantasy fiction, but told in a fresh way.
I eagerly await the sequel!
Thanks for getting this far. I’ll see you soon with the book review for Calamity by Brandon Sanderson!