A Quest for Identity- The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin [Review]

Winner of the 2016 Hugo Award for Best Novel

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I’ve heard a lot of booktubers rave over this series so I’ve been very anxious to dive into it. The synopsis for the book is mysterious and captivating…

This is the way the world ends…for the last time.

A season of endings has begun. 

It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun. 

It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter. 

It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester. 

This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.

The Plot

The book follows three characters: Essun, mother of 2 children; one who has been killed and the other kidnapped by her father. Damaya is a young child who has discovered the gift of orogeny, the power to control the earth, and has been given away by her parents because of this. Syenite, faithful soldier of the Fulcrum, an institution that controls and trains orogenes.

The overall plot of the book is a slow burn and takes a while to take shape. Since this is the first book of a trilogy, even by the end I felt there were loose ends and certain things up in the air that are left unanswered or I felt that I did not completely understand. Some readers might find this annoying but I usually don’t. Although I must confess at first certain things that happen to each character made me ask, “What is this?” or “Why is this happening?” A day after finishing the book I feel like those uncertainties just make me want to read books 2 and 3 even more. Hopefully, these next books continue filling in the gaps and answering questions to the mysteries presented in the first book.

Still, plot-wise what really reverberates for me in this book is how these three different stories interconnect and form a story of pain, hope, suffering, and survival. The mysteries in this world are intriguing and from what I’ve heard they continue on in the next two books.

“When the reasoning mind is forced to confront the impossible again and again, it has no choice but to adapt”

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The Characters

These characters…wow! It took awhile for this book to sink in completely and for me to process the book as a whole. These characters are compelling and you can’t help but feel for them. They are the driving forces in this book.

Damaya, a young girl who initially just wants someone to love her, finds herself rejected by her own parents. She must learn the hard way her new place in the world, a place where she is not even considered to be human and she must submit to the will of others.

Syenite has been trained in the fulcrum most of her life. She follows the rules and the will of the fulcrum. She knows something is not quite right but a lifetime of conditioning and psychological manipulation have made her deny the truth she knows deep down.

Essun…oh Essun! The mother mourning a child and trying to find the other broke my heart. I won’t say much except that by the end of the book I look back on her story and realize just how much she endured and somehow still kept going. A rich, layered character, filled with flaws that make her all the more human to me as a reader.

“Home is what you take with you, not what you leave behind.”

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The setting and world building

The world building is top notch. This world has many layers to it from its social aspects (the caste systems, society’s treatment towards orogenes, the communities or comms) to its fantastical elements (magic system, the obelisks and stone eaters). Speaking of social aspects, in this book there are diverse characters in terms of sexuality and family dynamics which I found to be refreshing.

Jemisin creates a world that is trying to survive through the oppression and denigration of an entire people. In this world, survival is what matters by any means necessary. Where the physical abuse is not apparent, there is psychological manipulation and indoctrination; this is especially apparent in the Guardians, those assigned to keep the orogenes in check.

The relationship between orogene and Guardian is one of love and hate and ultimately destructive. It’s like that significant other that beats you but tells you it’s for your own good and you let him beat you because you think that that person is the only one in this world who really loves you…yeah, it’s that kind of twisted and yet fascinating to see those layers of the relationship unfold.

“I love you…I hate doing this to you…I have hurt you so that you will hurt no one else.”

A message that resonates throughout the book through our main characters is the quest for identity.

Each character is at a different stage of their journey; one is molded into what society demands of her while another might start to question this or want something more for herself while the other shapes her identity to her circumstances.

Basically, this is an awesome read in which its strong points are its world building and rich, layered characters. The overall plot might be slow to unfold and character building takes precedence over this, but with these great characters I’m not complaining. The terminology might be confusing at first and readers can refer to the appendix for this.

Anxiously awaiting to receive book 2 and 3 in the mail!

5 out of 5 mortars

For all those with Instagram follow me @thebooklovingpharmacist

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