Name: The Fifth Season – Book 1 of the Broken Earth Series.
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Narrator: Robin Miles
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Runtime: 15h 27m
Welcome to Broken Earth. This earth is a dangerous place to live as natural disasters are commonplace. Earthquakes (the most common), volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, all occur regularly on the one supercontinent in the world known among it’s people as “The Stillness”. The people of the Stillness believe that “Father” Earth hates them and is actively trying to destroy them. The worst of these disasters triggers a ‘season’, a period of near apocolyptic conditions that kill thousands. As the book tells you: “This isn’t the first time the world has ended.”
Among the inhabitants of Broken Earth are people capable of psychically controlling the world. Stopping earthquakes, quelling volcanic eruptions…or triggering them. These Orogenes, as they are called are reviled by the people and are considered to be Father Earth’s agents designed to kill humanity. If they are not killed on sight they are taken to the Fulcrum, an institution in one of the only megacities left in the Stillness where they are trained to use their gifts to placate the earth and help death with crises as they emerge.
The world has shattered again. A fault line opened and now the continent has begun to snow ashes. The book focuses on three different characters: Damaya, a young Orogene who lives in the north who is taken to the Fulcrum for training. Syenite: A four-ring (level of mastery) Orogene of the Fulcrum sent to investigate a port city and Essun, an Orogene who is hunting for her husband after he killed her oldest child. What will happen to them on this Broken Earth? Will they survive the Stillness?
The focus of the novel is clearly on the central characters and the three main characters are the plot of the book, making this more a drama. Here N.K. did a good job establishing the central moods of the characters (Damaya – Innocence, Syenite – Ambition + Humility, Essun – Sorrow and Rage). Their adventures culminate in a central climax which do answer the book’s presented ‘?’ moments but leave more to be picked up in Book 2. That said I did have some problems with the book.
The writing style left me feeling the plot was disjointed. Certain aspects of the novel are entirely absent, or very present, depending on which character you are reading. The cataclysmic earth-rending event spewing ashes everywhere in blizzard-level quantities for example is only in Essun’s chapters. Another example of disjointed writing also occurs in Essun’s chapters: She is written in second-person perspective, present tense (ex. “You pick up the axe and peek out the door”). Damaya and Syenite are written in third-person past tense. By the end of the book you understand why but by then I feel is a very poor time to find out why a writer is writing that way. It was harder to keep listening during the times of the novel that things slowed down a few notches.
As a fantasy novel however I should take a moment to talk about the setting. The setting is, personally, quite awesome. It is a very unique take on what I consider an apt description of what the world would be like if “Earth” was masculine (“Father”) rather than feminine (“Mother)’. You see the dangers of the world through mainly Syenite’s and Essuns chapters and I wouldn’t want to live there and don’t even get me started on the cooky stuff the Fulcrum is up to (ick!!).
Lastly should discuss the narrator. To be honest I liked the narrator! Miles did a great job because of one thing: Mood. I may have been scratching my head going ‘huh?’ more than once throughout the novel but I always knew what emotions were in the air because she did a great job describing them via voice and inflection. Even breathing hard in times of panic.
In short: Loved the world but am iffy to grab book 2.
Score (of 5): 3
Strong world setting, connectable characters and prevalent mood themes. Awkward writing.
Narrator (of 5): 5
Strong emphasis on the mood of the moment, good character portrayals.