Audiobook Review: THE FIFTH SEASON by N. K. Jemisin

Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 2 stars
Series: yes - first book of trilogy
CW: child death


This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


This is not my first time trying to read this book, or second. It’s my third. I was so tempted to DNF it, again, but I pushed through – mainly thanks to a long car journey. I was very tired though, and dozed through maybe and hour or two? I’m not sure, but honestly I wasn’t engaged enough to be bothered to travel back through and work out where I’d stopped paying attention when I woke up.

I can, however, see why this would be a favourite of so many. The writing is beautiful and the story is set in such an original world.

So why didn’t I like it?

First, one of the POVs is written in second person – which is a style I hate. I find it so jarring to be told what I’m doing and how I’m feeling, when I’m not. I don’t think I’ve read a single book written in second person that I’ve actually liked. Also, the writing style is such that lots of things are left as implications. Yes, it’s realistic that people might avoid thinking about things, but a lot of major points are left to the reader to make the inferences, which means it feels incomplete. And when you’re struggling with the book anyway and tired, it makes almost no sense.

And yes, there are three POVs. Set in different times, but that isn’t explicitly stated for a very long time so it took a while to fully understand they were at different times. The when doesn’t become clear until the POVs are shown how they’re linked, which is well into the third act for all of them. It’s something I’m noticing more and more about myself the longer I think critically about what I read, but I do not like books with unconnected POVs. I love multi-POV books, but I want to know how they are connected – and for it to be a major connection – from the start. Not wait until the final act, or a few minor connections and a promise of a big role at the end of book/series. If they aren’t connected, I chose a favourite POV and I don’t care about the others because they aren’t obviously related to it.

For THE FIFTH SEASON, I like Cyanite’s POV best, as it felt like it had the most happening. Essun was wandering a post-apocalyptic landscape, and Demaia… just didn’t appear very much. I think she had like four chapters and there’s only one plot point I can think of that she actually contributed. Demaia was the most boring and I probably could have skipped every single one of her chapters and it not affect the overall plot at all, because the one plot point was then mentioned by someone else. Would have made it a shorter listen too.

Essun is the only POV with a clear end goal (not achieved). In fact, she basically makes no progress at all, which leaves me wondering what the point of her chapters were as she just wanders, so we just see the world…) I like books where I can clearly guess what it’s building towards – or at least, what I think it’s building towards in a vague sense. Like “they are going to face X enemy”. The author can pull off a well-set up plot twist and change that, but I like the feel there’s a sense of what’s being built towards.

However, there never was any sense of what the book might be building towards, and that left the ending feeling very meh and undeserved. There are two POVs by the end, in separate timelines and one of them doesn’t get a thematic, just “let me hint at book 2”

It’s also a very slow paced book, and the narration is very slow (I sped it up to 1.5 and it honestly didn’t sound much different from my usual speech).

Well, I’ve tried to read this three times, and have at least got the end. The chances of me reading the next book is close to none, but there is a chance. I really want to like this book, so maybe one day I’ll pick up the first book again and try again, but frankly I think it’s unlikely. Too many books too little time to spend on one I’ve tried repeatedly to like.

Read my reviews of other books by N. K. Jemison:

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