Fantasy, High Fantasy
The Broken Earth, Book # 1
August 4th 2015
February 7, 2020 February 14, 2020
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.
About the book
The Fifth Season is a catastrophic book because we are in a world where cataclysms and earthquakes are very habitual and dangerous. We are at the end of the earth cycle or at the beginning, it depends on your point of view, as we are in a primordial earth, with only one continent, the Stillness, in which, however, man is present. Time is marked by environmental disasters, in fact there are seasons that are very different from ours, which can last even millennia. Then a catastrophe, an earthquake or a volcano erupts and the fifth season begins.
The fifth season is the period following a catastrophe that can last a few years, but also millennia. In this period the air is unbreathable, it rains ash, most people die and it is as if the earth is renewed, killing everyone and then leaving only the few capable of surviving.
Fifth Season: a long winter – lasting at least six months as per Imperial classification – triggered by seismic activity or other large-scale environmental alterations.
Translated from the Glossary of La Quinta Stagione, Italian Version, p. 484
Civilisation is basic, they have no prospects of life because at any moment an environmental disaster might come and kill everyone. It is a civilisation based on certain laws that lead to the survival of the species and everyone thinks that the earth hates them.
Also around the continent there are obelisks that are the symbol of ancient civilisations that didn’t have this problem, but no one has the duty to study them because at any moment the end of the world can happen so why waste time studying when you have to prepare to survive during a fifth season? These obelisks have a particular energy.
The book is told by three female figures who have in common only the fact that they are orogenes, i.e. human beings capable of creating or stopping earthquakes, as they can control seismic shocks, drawing energy from the earth, thanks to a power called Orogeny.
The orogenes are important because they help to control the disasters that the earth can do and in fact there are node stations, hot spots, where seismic activity is at its maximum, where these orogenes are sent and with their powers they are able to contain seismic waves. But if on the one hand they are important, on the other they are hated and must be contained. In fact, when discovered, usually when they are children, they must be taken to a centre called Fulcrum located in the capital of the Stillness to be trained to contain their power because if left free it can trigger the end of the world. The task of training and researching Orogenes is given to the Guardians who are very likely to be orogenes who have not developed their powers. And they, too, are controlled by the Empire because they have implants at the base of the brain that sometimes damage them.
Humans hate orogenes (who are human, in any case) and we often see that parents denounce the orogeny of their children because having an orogene as a child is a shame that must be removed from the town. Sometimes the Guardians don’t arrive in time and the orogenic children are killed by the other members of the comm (as the cities are called) because they are considered dangerous.
Being an orogene is almost illegal, practicing orogeny is illegal unless you are part of the fulcrum and therefore you “work” for the empire. But the Fulcrum is a kind of academy founded by the orogenes themselves, since everyone wanted them dead, the ancient orogenes made sure to be useful to the Empire and founded this school.
There are three main characters, three women of different ages who are going through different periods of their lives. We have a little girl, Damaya, who has just discovered her orogeny. She is collected by a Gardian, Schaffa, who, among other things, is able to manage and control orogenes. This caretaker is called by her parents, so that the child can be removed from the comm and start her journey in the Fulcrum (and on the one hand she is lucky, because in this way she can survive, but is she really? training is hard, often there is torture and abuse and given the attitude of the parents when the girl leaves, perhaps it is not really a fortune). Damaya is a little girl, she has just started school and does not have much experience in life. Due to a bully, her orogeny is unleashed and then taken to the Fulcrum where she has to learn to control herself. Damaya is my favorite character.
Then there is Syenite who is a girl who has been in the Fulcrum for a few years. The orogenes have levels to complete and when they pass a level, rings are given. Syenite is a 4 rings and because of the law of reproduction, she is assigned a 10 rings (the maximum) to create a child. In addition to that Syenite also has a mission, her first mission, with Alabaster (the 10 rings), but something goes wrong during the mission and they must escape. (And here the obelisks and the stone eaters come into play).
Essun is an adult woman and she has a family, but her husband does not know about her oroigeny. Due to a fact that we do not see, the husband learns that the 2-year-old son is an orogene and strikes him so much that he is killed. And the story starts here, with Essun finds the lifeless body of Uche and the eldest daughter missing.
There are also secondary characters, like Alabaster who is a very powerful orogene and is a somewhat strange figure; there are the stone eaters that come from the obelisks of which we do not know much apart that they are made of stone; there are the Guardians and Lerna who knows Essun’s orogeny very well and is a doctor; Tonkee who is a geologist (or what for us is a geologist), in the language of the book is a Geomests.
I have to say that humans are not very present in this book, we know that they exist, but following mostly the events of orogenes, we don’t meet so many of them.
The chapters are quite long and each chapter focuses on one of the three women (which I like). Everything is written in the present tense which did not make me understand the temporal sequence of events. I will talk more about this in the discussion where I say something about the book because obviously it would be spoilers and I don’t want to discuss it in this section. However I didn’t like the author’s style that much. I know many liked it, but honestly I didn’t.
What I think
I liked the book in its entirety. Although I have reservations about the style. It is very original, I like that it often refers to rust and the chemist in me laughed every time it came up. For example: “Go to rust” used as a curse instead of “Go to hell”; or others that I don’t know because I don’t have the English version of the book.
I like the fact that Mother Earth no longer exists, but Father Earth is alive, as if this earth is a despotic character and he is in charge.
Conclusion no spoilers
The book is a must read because it is interesting, it isn’t a breathtaking reading like other books for this reason I give “only” 4 stars instead of 5 and I like the ending very much and that is why I give 4 stars instead of 3. Most likely, I didn’t find it to be a 4 star book because it is a series so I don’t have all the answers. At this moment, I’m not able to give a purpose to the book, I mean, there is Essun who wants to find her daughter and avenge the dead son and I can understand that, but I still don’t know the purpose of the whole story. There are still too many questions to which I have no answer.
The presence of the orogeny, I think, is the most beautiful part of this book. The fact that it is feared, but that it is also the only one that can save humanity from catastrophe is something well thought out. The orogenes are often mistreated and are practically slaves of their power, they are used in the node stations to keep the shocks at bay, but only thanks to them can humans survive or at least prolong the period of “calm”.
I will certainly read the second book because my questions must be answered. And surely I will reread this book because I lost many interesting points while reading because I didn’t know something (which I will say later) and therefore I couldn’t fully appreciate the book.
Now if you haven’t read the book please don’t read from here on, because I will say some spoilers.
First I want to discuss the style, the present tense and the “you” instead of Essum. Honestly, at the beginning I thought there were three different women and that each story was contemporary. All this seemed a bit strange to me because of the capital which is destroyed in Essun’s story and still exists in Danaya’s story. Then when Damaya chose her name, I began to believe that she and Syenite were the same person, but even there, I didn’t give importance to the whole thing (big mistake). In the end, of course, I understood everything, but since I didn’t know that the protagonist is only one, I didn’t understand practically anything about the timeline. For example the city of Allia that blows up: I thought it had happened after the initial earthquake and therefore I said “this, too? Poor kids!” but instead it happened years before. I should reread the book only to really understand what happened and when, because I didn’t find anything in Essum’s chapters to reference the previous events. Maybe the most attentive will get it way before I did, but honestly I don’t read to study a book, I read to pass the time and to relax so the thought that I have to use my brain to understand what happens like a math problem, no thank you (and I love maths!!).
Then frankly I didn’t identify myself so much. The author says that it is the man’s fault that the earth is like this now and she says it in a small sentence. But a few sentences later she says that it’s an orogene’s fault. But it doesn’t explain what happened so I can’t really say “oh my God this can happen to my earth” (as read in some reviews) because first, I don’t see my earth in this Immoto. I can use the primordial earth to explain how this world is but I don’t see it as mine, I see it as a fantasy world that has no connection with mine. And secondly because it is not well explained in details what happened, what the humans did or even just that orogene did to create this earth. Or rather, this is the only passage I remember (translated from Italian because I don’t have an English copy, so I don’t know if they are the same words, most probably not):
According to a legend, Father Earth did not originally hate life.
In fact, according to the tales of the doctrinologists, Earth once did everything possible to favour the strange rise of life on the surface. He even created predictable seasons; made the changes of wind, tides and temperature gradual so that every living being could adapt and evolve; he summoned the self-purifying waters, skies that always cleared after a storm. He did not create life – it was born by chance – but he was satisfied and fascinated by it, and he was proud to nurture such a strange, wild beauty on his soil.
Then people started doing terrible things on Father Earth. They poisoned the waters more than even he could clean them up and killed much of life on its surface. They pierced the crust that covered him, beyond the blood of his coat, they reached the marrow of his bones. And at the height of human arrogance and power, there were the orogenes who did something that even Earth could not forgive: they destroyed his only son.
Translated from La Quinta Stagione, Italian Version, p.ne 398-399.
First. Earth did not create life, according to the book. So why should he care (since he is Father Earth and not Mother Earth) if men kill much of the life on its surface? They aren’t killing something created by him so why does he care? All the better, less life to exploit the land, right? For the rest, of course, he is right.
Then we come to the passage where he mentions the orogeny. It was an orogene who did the impossible and, therefore, it can be deduced, it is not man’s fault, even if the orogenes are men. That is, in the book this distinction is emphasised, the orogenes do this, the orogenes do that. Not man does. So I can’t identify myself with this. It was an orogene who did the impossible so I can’t see my earth in this book. I don’t know if I managed to explain myself well.
Then we come to the last sentence: they destroyed his only son. Does Earth have a son? Maybe I’m a pig-head, but I can’t understand who this son is. The man? but he didn’t create him. So who is this son? The book says it is a mystery and I hope it is explained in the following books. (4/23/2020 it is explained it the second book)
And the second-person narrative. Maybe the author wanted to blame us, because it is true that we are exploiting the earth so that sooner or later it will rebel (much more than what it is already doing) but not having the facts, I honestly do not feel guilty at all.
Conclusion with spoilers
The ending is what made me immediately say “I want to read the next book” and more likely I will reread this book when the second book comes out in Italy, just to understand it better.
I would have preferred that the prologue was not a prologue but that the author concentrated more on contextualising the world. Instead she only gave information without explanation.
But anyway, just read it.