The Fifth Season N. K. Jemisin

We have a world with completely unstable geology. There are “seasons” where things become worse and the earth’s surface cracks and spews volcanoes and entire communities (comms) are wiped out and everyone who survives in some way is forced to flee somewhere more stable.

People have “uses” rather than jobs, from something as simple as “strongbacks” to do physical labor to many different types of talented people who can help keep the earth somewhat stable. Those who are most talented are called “orogenes” and they’re hated and feared though they’re the ones who can save lives and communities. They’re either killed by their communities as children or taken to be trained in the art of controlling quakes and volcanoes.

The mistrust of them lies in the fact that they have great power, but if they’re threatened or scared or overwhelmed with feeling, they can destroy everything around them.

They lead lives of comparative privilege but are slaves, carefully watched and controlled their entire lives.

The story loops between several characters over time, or so I thought, till I realized near the end that it was the story of a single woman over time. I am not sure if I would have seen that sooner if I’d read it in a closer sequence. I didn’t like the characters much, and the world treated everyone horribly, I thought, so I read it over a period of several months, reading other things in between. When I was about halfway through, I started to appreciate one of the characters, and then looked forward to her chapters. Finding that one likeable character propelled me to read the rest at a normal rate. In my defense, the character had different names and lives, and experiences over time. There wasn’t for me a clue that this was one woman over a long life.

Kind of cleverly, one person’s life is disrupted by the instability of the whole world, and just as communities keep getting wiped out and everyone starts over, her life is disrupted and she begins anew over and over. When you realize this is one woman’s story, it is sad that there are only small interludes of peace and happiness for her. I was not planning to read more in the series, but, how can you leave her there with so much ahead that she needs and wants to do.

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