Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth #1) by N.K. Jemisin

This book stands out in its interesting world-building, reflection of institutionalized racism, and structure. The Sanze Empire has been using the power of orogenes to control the continual seismic energy that shakes their world. While orogenes have elemental magic and power that you'd think would make them rulers, they are victims of institutionalized racism and controlled by the government through Guardians, killers that can negate their power. The story is told from three female perspectives whose separate stories come together at the story's end with a twist.

Essun is a mother whose three-year-old son is murdered by her husband when he discovers he is an orogene. Most people fear and hate orogenes whose powers appear in young children that are either killed or sent to a government facility called, "The Fulcrum", where they are taught control. If these children do not conform or control their powers they are killed by adults at the Fulcrum. Ironically, the Fulcrum is run by orogenes making them complicit in society's institutional racism.  Essun is an orogene in hiding and has never told her husband of her powers. She's so angry at his act of filicide she vows to find him and kill him. She's also terrified because he has taken their eight-year-old daughter who is also an orogene but the father doesn't know it. Damaya is a young girl whose family discovers that she has orogene powers and they send her to the Fulcrum. Her perspective shows the cruelty of the Guardians and being raised in the Fulcrum. The last character, Syenite, is a four-ring orogene who is paired with a powerful ten-ring orogene where they are sent on a mission to quell seismic activity and told to breed. Again the institutionalized racism shows the orogenes as slaves to the State with no choice. Syenite is ambitious and wants to move up the ranks but she is angry all the time. As the ten-ring orogene questions everything about the system she cannot help but become aware of her enslaved status and rebel against it.

Essun's story is written in second person point-of-view and while at first I wondered if it was imitating a self-help book (where I usually see 2nd person POV) as she's so broken inside from the death of her son, it is more than that and is revealed at the end. The reader is the onlooker and character being drawn into the story and made complicit with the injustice and intolerance that is directed at those who are different from others. It invites the reader to react and change to the world around them being more tolerant to those who are marginalized. At first I thought the structure or POV might separate me from the victim but instead it had the opposite effect.

While the story is science fiction there is a mix of genres as Essun's tale is like a survival story, Damaya's perspective encapsulates the school story, and Syenite's quest is more fantasy as she learns elemental magic and has romances while on a mission. Essun's story pokes holes in social Darwinism especially as survival of the fittest comes in the form of a petite blonde woman and all address institutionalized racism. Most of the characters are dark-skinned as the surviving race and cities are by the equator. The start of the book is somewhat confusing and the author left me with a lot of questions at the end. This post-apocalyptic story has remnants of ruined civilizations seen in abandoned cities, stonelore, stone eaters and obelisks. Enough is explained that I understood the gist but not enough so that I want to read the next book to get a better understanding of the world the author has created.

5 Smileys

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