The Fifth Season – N. K. Jemisin

And so, hard on the heels of… a not particularly favourable post, I return to Jemisin for Hugo-related chatterings. I’ll get straight to the point with this one: it’s better than The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms – and it is noticeably, definitely better – but I’m still not greatly sold on Jemisin’s work.

I feel bad about this, actually. Because I’ve read a bit about Jemisin now, and I read her author’s notes at the back of The Fifth Season, and out of authoring, she writes really nicely, and seems really likeable and interesting and fun. But in-story? Eh. I just can’t get on with her writing style and stories. It’s a combination of “not to my taste” and “I’m not certain this is particularly new, shiny or clever” and I just can’t get that enthusiastic about it. And, if I’m really really honest… I think the only reason it’s so much better than The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is because there’s no cringey romance. There’s barely any romance at all, and what there is is sort of… skimmed over and taken for granted, rather than the more teenaged and angsty stuff of tHTK. And yes, that’s partly because, were it up to me, there’d be a whole lot less romance in fiction than there currently is*. But it’s also a fairly significant part due to just how godawfully cringey the stuff in tHTK is. I know I mentioned it already in my review, but I cannot stress it enough.

The Fifth Season is pretty grim in general, but also fairly light. For all that I didn’t really get on with it, it was a very easy read – I got through 30% in one sitting, in fact. So I can at least say this for Jemisin, her prose works. It strikes that nice balance between unobtrusive and elegant, so when you think about it, you can tell it’s quite good, but it’s not so in your face that you’re always thinking about. That said – more niggles – she talks directly to the reader several times in this one, and I really don’t think that works either. It’s not that often (just at the start of a few chapters) so it doesn’t feel like a Thing, but it’s enough to be odd and jarring, without really adding anything to what’s going on. It just doesn’t… fit.

The characters are just… well… I don’t like any of them. Not one. Damaya was alright I guess. But that’s it. “Alright I guess” is the best I can muster for them. And I think it’s in part because of the grimness. The book is set mid-apocalypse, so some grimness is to be expected, of course. And I’m saying this straight after reading Seveneves, so my bar for grim and sad has been set very high. VERY HIGH. And yet the grimness here felt overdone. Not because it’s more grim, per se. But just because it infiltrates the mindsets of the characters so much. They stop feeling real in their reactions – at least the characters of Seveneves sometimes slipped into black humour or… somehow broke the monotony of grim. They still felt like people, albeit people coping with something incomprehensibly awful. But this just isn’t here.

It also isn’t helped by how the story dots around chronologically. Normally I like this, but she’s not done it quite so elegantly as it could be, and it actually ends up alienating the reader from the characters. You don’t get enough time with each to really get to grips with them and get on with them. I didn’t want to switch viewpoints with the chapters because I wanted to give each character a chance… but it feels like they get pulled away just before you might actually start getting somewhere with them, every single time. It’s incredibly frustrating.

World-building-wise, it’s cool, and interesting… and some of it is new and shiny. But that’s not enough to balance out the unrelenting grim and bland. Especially since a lot of it is neither new nor shiny at all. She’s taken a fairly uninspired generic fantasy world and added some cool bits… but what’s underneath is still fairly generic, much like tHTK.

It also ends strangely abruptly. Not exactly a cliffhanger (though there is/will be a sequel) just an odd… cut off. I started reading the appendix before realising what had happened.

Long story short, I still don’t like Jemisin’s work. This is definitely better than the previous one… but I’m just still not sold.

Hugo-wise… I think I’m putting it between Seveneves and Ancillary Mercy, but much much closer to the former than the latter. It’s more readable and better paced than Seveneves, but still not something I’d really seek out. Not sure if I’ll read the sequel.

Hopefully Naomi Novik will be better, as Uprooted is up next.


*Rant version: romance gets everywhere. EVERYWHERE. And I wish it wouldn’t. Sometimes, I just want to read a story where people are friends, or drama happens, or adventures or mysteries, and no one is in love with anyone else, or pining or having a dramatic on/off thing. I just… don’t care? This is primarily why I don’t ship, pretty much at all. There’s already a surfeit of romance. I don’t need to add more. If anything, a story where it looks like a couple of people are going to be crowbarred together and then they end up just being friends is my idea of a perfect thing. Of course, I’m not saying no romance ever. Other people like that, they can have it, sure, whatever. But does it have to be so ubiquitous? Can’t I escape it sometimes, please? Dear authors of the world: please facilitate my romance-grinching. Many thank.


About readerofelse

A student of a redundant, useless and thoroughly interesting subject and reader of many books, particularly fantasy, science fiction and plenty else besides.
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2 Responses to The Fifth Season – N. K. Jemisin

  1. Pingback: Ninefox Gambit – Yoon Ha Lee | A Reader of Else

  2. Pingback: The Obelisk Gate – N. K. Jemisin | A Reader of Else

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