“You’re firemountain-glass, Dama”. He says this very softly. “You’re a gift of the earth – but Father Earth hates us, never forget, and his gifts are neither free nor safe”.
Fantasy and science fiction are not my fortes. Having grown up on some of the most well-known fantasy books of the twentieth and twenty-first century (namely JRR Tolkein’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings), when my reading habits started changing and I became more aware of the inequality not just within my own reading but within the books which were on the market, the fantasy and sci-fi genres were glaringly and obviously dominated by white male authors writing white male characters for a white male audience.
That’s why I was so excited to hear of N.K. Jemisin, a black African female writer who incorporates both of these genres in her latest series of books, The Broken Earth trilogy. Winner of the Hugo Award – and the first black writer to ever win the title – The Fifth Season is a dystopian tale of epic proportions. Told from the perspective of three narrators, who come together in a surprising but subtle way, the Stillness is a danger zone of natural catastrophes.
“Home is people […]. Home is what you take with you, not what you leave behind”.
Some people, orogenes, can actually control the Earth’s rumbles and quakes. But if they haven’t learnt to control their emotions they can accidentally wreak havoc on the natural world. Guardians from the Fulcrum are constantly on the hunt for orogenes from birth. The younger they are, the more damage they can do and, paradoxically, the easier they are to train and manipulate as they grow into adults. If families haven’t already taken matters into their own hands, like Essun’s husband does – to her complete shock and horror – they will gladly hand over their child to the Guardians.
Orogenes, or ‘roggas’, to use the more derogatory and offensive term, aren’t treated as people. Instead they are slaves to the Fulcrum. Taught from a young age to think less of themselves, the majority of orogenes have been brainwashed into submission. Not Syenite though. As she journeys through the Stillness with Alabaster, one of the most powerful orogenes in the Fulcrum, she realises her strength and her power on this broken Earth – an Earth which also happens to be the biggest threat and enemy to humankind. Through many guises she is a fighter and a survivor.
Jemisin’s The Fifth Season doesn’t follow the common trajectory of most fantasy novels. Her protagonists aren’t fighting an all-out evil enemy and they aren’t always morally right either. Instead they are striving to survive with whatever weapons they have at their disposal. Jemisin shows her characters to be multifaceted and nuanced, exploring and deconstructing ideas around race, gender and sexuality.
Although there is much to like about The Fifth Season, there was also a lot that went over my head. I’m still not entirely sure about the time frames of the shifting narratives or what exactly has happened to Earth. However, like with any epic story, I’m sure all will be revealed in due time. I’m not ready to give up on The Broken Earth trilogy just yet.
‘[…] neither myths nor mysteries can hold a candle to the most infinitesimal spark of hope’.