Top positive review
Dark, Dystopian, and Thought-Provoking
Reviewed in the United States on August 13, 2017
The Fifth Season is the first book in The Broken Earth trilogy. It won the Hugo Award for 2016 and the sequel, The Obelisk Gate, just took the 2017 Hugo Award. The third book in the series, The Stone Sky is due out in a few days (August 15, 2017) and seems to have a lot of buzz around the anticipated release.
Being such a critically acclaimed darling and widely read already, there's not much my review can add, but I'll throw my few cents in anyhow.
For me this was a 4.5 star book. This is the second N.K. Jemisin book I've read (the other was The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms). I liked this book appreciably more, but there are definitely a few commonalities that I'll just chalk up to the authors style. She seems to favor chopping her narrative up chronologically, and not really explaining to the reader what's earlier or later in the timeline, you just get to piece it together as you go. She also seems to favor some tougher to read perspectives (one of the POV storylines in The Fifth Season uses 2nd person, which is not so common, but I thought it worked well in this context). Lastly, she's not an author that spells out all the twists and turns of the plot, again, the reader is left to infer and piece things together. I thought this was much more effective in The Fifth Season than in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
This book did have fair amount of made up words. You will pretty much catch on to all of it by context, but it's a little disorienting at the start of the book when they come in fast and furious. For those reading the ebook edition (like I did), it may be helpful to know there's an index at the back of the book. As usual, I only found it when I was done. One day I'll learn to check.
Quick plot overview without getting into spoilers - this is a dystopian novel, set on a far future Earth. The continents have been smashed together again and the world is menaced by extremely active tectonic shifts and the resulting hot spots/volcanoes. The titular "Fifth Seasons" happen when a massive natural disaster occurs (volcano/earthquake) that impacts life over most or all of the continent for a long period of time (anywhere from six months to hundreds of years) - impacts can be acidic rain, famine, fungal blooms, crop extinction, etc. There's an index of the various Fifth Seasons at the back of the book as well.
The narrative revolves around people in this world with an extra ability to control the earth (specifically seismically, in quelling or causing earthquakes/tsunamis/volcanic erruptions). These people are called orogenes (politely) or roggas (informally/derogatorily). In the current timeline, an empire called Sanze controls most of the continent. At the capital of Sanze, there's a school/training facility called the Fulcrum. The Fulcrum is designed to train/control orogenes.
In philosophical themes, the book gives you a lot to chew over and think about in regard to the true meaning and results of slavery and freedom and the intention of actions and the results. The book also touches on race (a lot of comments will note the description of most of the population reads as African or Asian) and sexuality (there is a gender fluid character as well as some bisexuality and a three-way, sort of, relationship).
The book is most certainly dark, but worthy of reading. There are several instances of abuse centered on children which always seems harder to read and a few grisly deaths as well as some mass death events. The world of The Fifth Season is a harsh one. There was not a lot of humor to lighten this book up but it was nonetheless an engaging read that left you with something to ponder.
Edit: I finished this book several months ago but I'm still thinking about it. Added an extra star for the narrative's lasting power.