Honesty time: I put off reading N.K. Jemisin because I was intimidated. Sci-fi isn't always the most accessible genre for me, and the publisher descriptions of her books sound so technical. It's hard for me to get excited about jargon-laden descriptions of spaceships or distant planets. I need some character development, some interpersonal connection...and yes, maybe some high-stakes emotional drama, to keep me invested, and the sci-fi I've read doesn't always deliver that.
It turns out, N.K. Jemisin's brand of science fiction is like regular science fiction, plus the emotional weight and stylistic skill of my favorite literary writers. Jackpot!
The Fifth Season, the first volume in Jemisin's latest trilogy, follows three different plot lines. The first is about a woman named Essun, who comes home to discover her husband has killed their son and kidnapped their daughter. She sets out across dangerous, desolate terrain to find them. The earth, already wildly unstable along its fault lines, has been torn asunder in a great rift, and ash rains down as infrastructure burns.
What's scariest about Essun's situation, other than the physical risk of being alone and unprotected in uncertain, anarchic times, is how unsurprised she seems by her husband's terrible actions; it's as if she always feared this day would come. But what reason could ever justify killing one's own child? To that I say, keep reading.
Then there is Damaya, a young girl with mysterious earth-moving powers, sold by her own parents to a government handler who asserts control over her in strange and cruel ways. And Syenite, a woman with the same kind of powers, paired up with a senior partner with whom she is required to procreate to produce more of their kind. I've said many times before how much I love books that bring together different threads of story in surprising ways, and Jemisin's book goes right to the top of that list in my mind.
The Fifth Season also goes right to the top of the list of my favorite books of 2015. It's beautifully written, it's a highly unique concept, and I could not have been more invested in these characters. I'm not a big re-reader, but it's one I would consider reading again, just to see all the little connections I missed the first time around. I'm also not a big fan of series, but I'm sure I'll be in such a frenzy by the time the second book, The Obelisk Gate, comes out (hopefully next year), I'll probably need to read it while pedaling 20 miles per hour on the exercise bike. If that isn't enough, I don't know, maybe a tranquilizer dart to the face?
Jemisin's work could stand alongside Margaret Atwood's best speculative fiction, but with a worldview and flair all its own. Highest possible recommendation.