“You should read …
N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. To identify this book as “fantasy” or “post-apocalyptic,” while accurate, would also be wholly inadequate. At its core, The Fifth Season is a novel about power, oppression, and the costs—physical, emotional, and psychological—of living in a world that denies your humanity so thoroughly that you cannot even recognize it in yourself.
In brief, the story involves a tectonically unstable world in which one small group of people possess the power to sense and control these tectonic shifts. When a massive earthquake shakes this fragile land, it initiates a “fifth season” of ash and death, forcing characters to make difficult choices about how to survive. This summary makes the novel seem primarily environmental in its concerns, but Jemisin is after more than a warning about the dangers of massive ecosystem collapse. At its core, The Fifth Season is a study of fear as a method of social control, determining who is “us” and who is “other,” who is a person and who is merely a tool. Jemisin’s nuanced world-building is designed not to impress with its innovation, but rather to bring us into a deeper understanding of how histories are forgotten and rewritten over time and how caste systems are built over generations. Like all good fantasy, the allegory of own world is clear, but at the same time the fictional world offers us the opportunity to explore with new eyes, exposing our own biases and assumptions. Jemisin draws us into her characters with remarkable skill, vividly evoking the difficulties of loving and trusting when your life is marked by fear and abuse. In the end, we must ask which poses a greater threat to these characters’ survival: the land itself, unstable and deadly, or a society that asks nothing less than the sacrifice of our own humanity. ”
Assistant Professor of Dramatic Arts
University of Connecticut