Beginning with The Fifth Season, N. K. Jemisin offers readers an experience like no other with her Broken Earth trilogy. The books, in order:
- The Fifth Season
- The Obelisk Gate
- The Stone Sky
This review will be spoiler free.
We all know about the seasons. There are four of them. Well, what happens when the earth gets angry that it causes the end of the world? That’s a Fifth Season. The world has ended. The world is ending. The world will end again. In these “end of the world” scenarios, we’re usually talking about humanity and the world they know. The world continues on just fine. There might even be some stragglers left. So it’s kind of a misnomer.
Not this time. This is a Fifth Season like no other.
While the series follows multiple POVs throughout, the main focus is of a mother and daughter. They are orogenes; they have the ability to sense the earth and control some aspects of it. Many people fear and detest them, thinking they are the cause of the Fifth Seasons. Parents send their children to a place called the Fulcrum where they are trained and taught that they are less than human…that “real” humans have a right to fear orogenes–or roggas, the more offensive term.
The series attempts something dangerous. In one with such a destructive world, it’s only fitting: It uses the second person POV. Essun’s husband has just killed her son because he discovered the son was an orogene. He has abducted their daughter, Nassun, because he suspects she too is an orogene. You are Essun. You must travel the world to find your daughter.
Essun and Nassun’s characters arcs essentially mirror each other. Essun gradually sheds this image of a monster she has formed over her lifetime. Nassun gradually becomes the monster the world thinks an orogene is.
The Broken Earth is more than just a post-apocalyptic story. It speaks about social issues. About race. About LGBT+. This is a series about the oppressed. About how sometimes even parents cannot love their own children. In a word, it’s heartbreaking.
We also follow Damaya as she is taken away and brought to the Fulcrum by a Guardian. The Guardians train orogenes and protect humanity from them. Elsewhere, we also follow Syenite, a Fulcrum-trained orogene who is instructed to go on a mission with Alabaster–an incredibly powerful orogene. Then there are the Stone Eaters. They seem to be a third party in all of this. They are like statues that move.
There’s a lot to taken in. Many characters. Many terms. Some people might find the first book takes a bit before things start really connecting. Things can feel disjointed. But I think that’s the point. This series might make you feel uncomfortable. This isn’t a happy trilogy. At times it is disjointed. It seems like once we have saved one limb, we’re on the verge of losing another. Oh, *that’s* why we have Fifth Seasons? OK. But how did *that* even happen? OK, but….
As I said, this is a spoiler-free review, so I won’t go into much detail about any of the individual books. However, my personal ranking, in order from most favorite to least favorite:
- The Fifth Season (book 1)
- The Stone Sky (book 3)
- The Obelisk Gate (book 2)
This doesn’t mean I disliked the second book; I loved it. I just loved the other two more.
I’ll admit this is a bit short for a full series review. But I also think The Broken Earth trilogy is one best read almost blind. Just dive right in. Rescue your daughter before the world ends for real this time.