The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin
The Fifth Season is a well crafted fantasy book, the first of the Broken Earth trilogy. Each book in the trilogy won a Hugo Award in subsequent years, which is an unprecedented achievement. But even more importantly, my wife discovered it and recommended it to me! Overall, I found the book to be very original, but had a few gripes too. The best parts were the slow reveal and the world building, but I found the beginning to be boring, and struggled a bit with identity politics.
Jemisin's world building is very compelling. She created an interesting, completely original universe based on tectonic plates, the earth itself, and seismic activity. The earth-like setting is incredibly seismically active, and some humans have some ability to control this activity, either suppressing shakes or creating their own. There are also humanoids that appear to be made of rock, and other interesting fauna. I really liked kirkhusas for some reason. One of the great things about the way the book is written is that all aspects of the world reveal themselves very slowly. Two thirds of the way in, I was still confused about the mechanics of earth manipulation, the politics of the realm, who the characters really were. I also loved the way that that three distinct story lines merged into two, then one.
Two aspects that I didn't like are as follows. Firstly, I found the sex towards the end of the book to be surprising. The first encounter with Inon devolved into a really a weird scene, and I felt that the whole book risked devolving into smarmy rom.
Secondly, it is an underdog story that feels a bit too black and white. Those that control the earth form an underclass, despite their great innate power. They are subjugated by non-magical people that control them through their evil, hierarchical bureaucracy. The author does a great job conveying emotions, especially of the female characters. Their frequent frustration is palpable.
I really wish I didn’t know the identity of the author before reading. This was inevitable, as her picture prominently features on the inside cover. As a result, I was distracted by the emphasis on female protagonists and racial analogies. Even the word "rogga" connotes very directly another racially derogatory term that has no place on this page. In that political light, I was somewhat surprised at the revolutionary tone the author sets, especially towards the end of the book, and particularily in the cryptic ending. I suppose it's a powerful hook to read the next book in the trilogy.