Literature / The Fifth Season

But this is the way the world ends.
This is the way the world ends.
This is the way the world ends.
For the last time.

The Fifth Season is a 2015 novel by N. K. Jemisin. In a world plagued by terrible earthquakes, the survival-obsessed Sanze Empire rules, maintaining stability with the Fulcrum, an army of enslaved orogenes. These orogenes are born with staggering power, but are widely feared and hated, considered agents of the bitter, humanity-hating Father Earth.

For ten years, Essun has been living a peaceful life in a small town with her husband and two children—but all that changes when a massive earthquake cracks the continent down the center. Such disasters have happened before, but this one is the worst yet. After they unconsciously shield the town from the worst of the shake, Essun and her children are revealed as orogenes. Her husband beats her son to death and kidnaps their daughter, and Essun, with nothing else left to live for, chases him down in pursuit of revenge. But even that isn't simple. She is joined by a strange inhuman child and a mysterious homeless woman, and it soon becomes clear that the past she's been hiding from isn't as dead she'd hoped...

Continued in The Obelisk Gate.


The Fifth Season contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Damaya's parents lock her in a barn in winter without a blanket, and were perfectly happy to hand her over to a man they thought would kill her. And Schaffa, once he becomes her Parental Substitute, breaks her hand to teach her a lesson. He does love her, but it's incredibly twisted and he would kill her in a heartbeat.
    Schaffa: I will break every bone in your hand, every bone in your body, if I deem it necessary to make the world safe from you.
  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: Stone eaters take humanoid form in order to make interacting with their chosen orogenes easier. There are varying levels of good at it.
  • Anti-Magic: Guardians become Guardians because they're capable of doing this. An orogene can't even sense their footsteps.
  • Apocalypse How:
    • Class 2: Humanity has already survived multiple iterations of the planetary/societal collapse, to the point that society is built around it. Everyone thinks they'll get through this one, too, except...
    • Class 4: Unbeknownst to them, the artificial winter is going to last a whole lot longer and the world's not going to get back to normal for several thousand years.
  • Beware the Quiet Ones: Essun is an unobtrusive, unassuming woman whom most people in her village know as "Jija's wife". When they figure out she's an orogene and try to kill her, she snaps, kills her attackers and everyone else who was too close to her, and destroys half the town.
  • Blessed with Suck: In a world that is always seismically unstable, you'd think being able to control earthquakes would be great, but orogenes who don't know how to control their power can accidentally murder people by instinctively sucking the heat energy out of them to use as power, and they are widely hated and feared.
  • Broken Ace: Alabaster is a ten-ringer, making him the Fulcrum's very best operative. But, since he works for the Fulcrum, he's been horribly abused for years, and he is cynical and self-hating. Oh, and he's the one who caused the world-ending earthquake.
  • Bullying a Dragon: How the people of the Stillness generally treat orogenes, even though they can control earthquakes and suck the heat and energy out of whatever is around them. The people of Tirimo, in fact, turn on Essun as soon as they realize what she is; it goes about as well of them as you'd expect. Alabaster actually lampshades this when the deputy governor of Allia fails to show him and Syenite any basic hospitality or politeness.
    Alabaster: "We are merely here to wield powers greater than she can comprehend in order to save her region's economy, while she's— She is a pedantic minor bureaucrat. But I'm sure she's a very important pedantic minor bureaucrat."
  • Chekhov's Gun: The floating obelisks.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Binof Leadership Yumenes turns up later as Tonkee
  • Creator In-Joke: Once again, the snobby imperialists have a history of cannibalism.
  • Dishing Out Dirt: Orogenes, of course.
  • Eat Dirt, Cheap: The Stone Eaters, as you might guess.
  • Fantastic Racism: Orogenes are widely viewed as subhuman monsters who'll go nuts and kill everyone around them at the drop of a hat. In fact, they were legally ruled not human a few thousand years before the start of the book. The hatred of orogenes is so strong that Essun's husband beats his three-year-old son to death because he thinks he is one.
    • More mundanely, Sanzeds look down on other ethnicities, because Sanzed racial traits (hair that filters ash easily, wide hips, etc) are considered better for surviving apocalypses.
  • Faking the Dead: How Essun has stayed under the Guardians' radar. They think she died when she blew up Meov.
  • Fantastic Slurs: "Rogga" for orogenes.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: As it turns out, the Sanzeds were this during a particularly bad Season.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted in the first ten pages; Essun's three-year-old son Uche has been beaten to death by his own father. Also with her son Corundum.
  • Mama Bear: Essun. She was this as Syenite, too.
  • Meaningful Rename: Damaya takes the name "Syenite" when she passes her first ring test and becomes an active Fulcrum operative. Syenite is a stone that becomes stronger under heat and pressure, rather than breaking.
  • Muggle Born of Mages: Children of orogenes who don't have orogeny themselves become Guardians.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Syenite, after she accidentally wakes a volcano under the city of Allia.
  • The Night That Never Ends: The continent-shattering earthquake at the beginning of the book opens a volcanic rift continually pouring out enough ash to blot out the sun for thousands of years, kicking off an Endless Winter.
  • Offing the Offspring: Essun's husband to her son; Syenite to her son Corundum, in order to keep him from being captured and mutilated.
  • Oh My Gods!: People swear by "Evil Earth".
  • The Paragon Always Rebels: Alabaster is the very best orogene the Fulcrum has ever trained. He also hates them, did something to his Guardian to get her out of the way (nobody knows what), gets the hell out the first chance he gets, and causes the end of the world because he thinks it's the only way to break the Empire's power and destroy the Fulcrum for good.
  • Parental Substitute: Guardians often become this to orogenes, because they alone are not scared of them, so as long as the orogene isn't about to kill someone, they're safer with the Guardians than they are anywhere else. Unfortunately, that still isn't very safe.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: The "node maintainers" are lobotomized orogenes.
  • Precision F-Strike: When Schaffa reminds Syenite that she is not allowed to say "no" to him, she responds with "fucking no!"
  • Really 700 Years Old: Hoa is at least twenty-seven centuries old, but looks about eight.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Jemisin acknowledges that Margaret Garner, who killed her own daughter rather that have her live as a slave, inspired the novel.
  • The Three Faces of Eve: The protagonists: Damaya, the child; Syenite, the seductress - in that it is her job to have sex with Alabaster to produce an orogene; and the quiet Essun, known merely as Jija's wife. Subverted in that they are all the same person, at different stages of her life
  • Ungrateful Bastard: The people of Little Tirimo to Essun. They survived a literal world-ending earthquake with their homes and food supplies mostly intact because of her... and they try to kill her anyway because she's a "rogga".
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Alabaster. Yes, causing the massive earthquake killed thousands if not millions of people and is going to kill even more. But it also destroyed the corrupt Empire and horrifically abusive Fulcrum, which was the point.
  • Wizarding School: Horribly subverted. The Fulcrum may look like a school, but it's just a place to beat and brainwash young orogenes into becoming obedient slaves of the empire. Anyone who causes too much trouble or fails too much is taken away and lobotomized.
    The Fulcrum is not a school. Grits are not students. Orogenes are not people.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The Guardians, to a one.
  • You Killed My Son: And kidnapped her daughter. This is why Essun is chasing down her husband Jija.


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