Audiobook Review: The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth #1)

Published August 4th 2015

Author: N.K. Jemisin

Narrator: Robin Miles

Audiobook Length: 15 hours 27 minutes

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 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. 

The Fifth Season is the first novel in the Broken Earth trilogy and has been on TBR for a very long time. Many people have recommended both series and the author’s other works, Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, so I went with the one that popped up first at my library and this novel won out. This novel stood out to me a lot for its originality and I hope that the next two novels in the series turn out well. While there are some familiar fantasy/science fiction elements, such as latent abilities that are feared/hidden in society, the author did a great job so far at making the concept seem original.

The story follows multiple characters that are all orogenes, who can manipulate physical science elements (earthquakes, volcanoes, etc.) in a world called the Stillness. While orogenes are the ones that can keep peace with the Earth, the world has been convinced that they are dangerous. A Fifth Season, similar to an apocalypse, seems to be on the horizon and is the looming threat within the story. Essun is an orogene whose husband killed their son, who was also an orogene. She sets off to find her husband and their daughter, who he took with him. Next, there is Damaya, a young girl and orogene, who is sold to a Guardian to be taken to an orogene “academy” called the Fulcrum. Within the Fulcrum, the readers meet Syenite, an orogene, sworn to serve. All three characters may all be orogenes, but their stories all take place at different points of danger.

While I became fully invested in the story around the 15ish-percent mark, it did take a bit to get into everything. For some readers, they may DNF this story as it does take some longer to get into the story. For me, it was worth it as it was a very captivating story and ends on a cliffhanger that makes you want to immediately start the next novel. Additionally, there are the three main storylines, which can get confusing, especially if, like me, you complete the audiobook version. For this reason, I listened to around 2x speed compared to my usual 2.5ish, which helped a lot for me to get an extra few seconds to wrap my head around everything.

Overall, this is excellent intro novel to the series with a lot of representation within the pages. There are characters of color, from different backgrounds, LGBTQIA+, etc. that all feel natural (not forced). There are a lot of themes throughout the novel, such as, found family, platonic and romantic connections, and society. While this novel did require a little more patience for me to wrap my head around every element, it was worth it in the end. I cannot wait to now try the second novel in the trilogy!

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