“To all those who have to fight for the respect that everyone else is given without question.”
This is the dedication provided by the author, N.K. Jemisin, at the beginning of The Fifth Season. Now pause, and read it again. . . This dedication set the tone for my entire experience reading this novel. Every page, it was there in the back of my mind. The Fifth Season does what all great works of fiction do. By pulling you into a fictional universe in which you are an outsider, it allows for a fresh perspective, and forces you to see your own reality more clearly. I dare you to try to read this book and come out the other side thinking that human beings have the right to abuse and take advantage of the environment the way we do, or thinking that the earth cares whether or not it’s habitable for any given species.
Now I want to be honest in that as much as I loved and will continue to rave about The Fifth Season, I didn’t find it perfect. However, I do not want to undersell this book because it doesn’t deserve that (also it won a Hugo so it doesn’t really matter what I think anyway). It’s unique, impressive, and gripping. The writing is excellent, the depth of the narrative is astounding (I’m always amazed by world-building and the history and depth to to the world of The Fifth Season is incredible), and the ways race, gender, and human/environment interaction is explored is fascinating and eye-opening. I was engrossed the whole time. I began this book with the intention of only reading a chapter or two, which of course did not end up happening (I should know myself better), and instead finished it 6 hours later without taking a single break. Maybe it’s just that it’s been awhile since I’ve read a good epic fantasy, but I was continually struck by how unique The Fifth Element was in so many ways in a genre that, in my experience, can sometimes suffer from repetitiveness in its themes and story arcs. A lot of it felt new, and I wouldn’t hesitate to partially attribute that freshness to the author being a black woman. Why should we be surprised that a genre historically dominated by white men can sometimes begin to feel stale? (P.S. do NOT think there isn’t precedent for remarkable black female authors of fantasy or sci-fi)
With all that said, I don’t see this book lingering with me in a long-term, powerful way the way my favorite books do. There’s no concrete reason I can give for why I found The Fifth Season less than perfect. The fact is, personal taste varies, and The Fifth Season simply didn’t resonate quite as deeply with me as some other fantasy novels I’ve read. That doesn’t mean this would be the case for anyone else. I plan to read the 2nd book in the trilogy ASAP and will be anxiously awaiting the third. If you’re a lover of fantasy novels, I wouldn’t miss this one for the world.
You’ll like this book if you like: Fantasy, Strong female protagonists, R-rated content, LGBTQ content, human/environment interaction themes