2020 reread: I recently re-‘read’ this as an audiobook. It’s just as spectacular so far as world and character building go as I wrote last time and this time around I have both sequels to look forward to! I highly recommend it.
The Fifth Season takes place in what could easily by (may intentionally be?) a far future Earth where volcanoes, earthquakes, and various other seismic disasters have an annoying tendency to kill off large portions of humanity every few centuries. Combine that with a few powerful individuals (orogenes) who have magical abilities associated with said earthquakes that they cannot always control… And you have quite the world.
It took me a while to realize that the various different sections of the book were following the story of a single character. She went by different names at different times and didn't always have the same powers, so it wasn’t always easy to tell who you were dealing with. On top of that, there are jumps in the timeline from chapter to chapter, covering years (if not decades). Once you finally figure out who and when you’re reading about, it’s fascinating to see how everything fits together. Before that… it’s confusing and a bit frustrating.
Overall, there are a few different plot threads, mostly following a core character and those she associates with in the different timelines. There are a few different disasters (both natural and manmade) to deal with and a kidnapping. For the most part though, the story doesn’t really feel like it goes anywhere, instead opting to explore the world that Jemisin has created. It’s a fascinating world and I do love enjoying it, but when we got to the end of the story there felt like there were any number of threads left hanging and questions left unanswered. I assume we’ll pick up some of those at least in the upcoming sequel? It still left me with an unsatisfied feeling upon completing it.
Overall, excellent world building, interesting characters, engaging writing… and a plot / ending that could use a little more closure. Worth the read though. I always enjoy new and different feeling fantasy, which this certainly qualifies as.