Book Review: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin – A Paragon of SFF Worldbuilding and Storytelling

Text: THE FIFTH SEASON by N.K. Jemisin. Round 'button' on bottom-right showing

The moment you step through the boundary and enter The Pond, you feel a tremor in the earth. Alert, you run towards the pond, worried that your little pond friends may be hurt or afraid of the earthquake. But as you approach, you can feel the crackle of magic in the air and things don’t seem frantic, just its usual calm. Less worried and now curious, you call out for your pond friends.

“Over here, friend!” you hear a voice call out.

You follow the voice and see a little mess by the Pond; its usual terrain is uneven and you see tiny oval-shaped prints on the dirt. By the water, you see Xiaolong standing with her arms held up for balance. She raises her little foot, and the moment her foot meets the ground – ruuuuuumbleeeeee! The ground beneath you shakes and you have to steady yourself. Xiaolong giggles in delight.
Xiaolong the axolotl, her arms raised by her sides, feet apart; her left foot has created the earth to tremor and rise (casting earth-magic).
“Hi friend!” she says, scurrying over to you (and thankfully not causing mini-earthquakes with every step). “I just read the most amazing book and when I told Varian about it, they taught me this earth-magic spell. Look what I can do!” She readies her stance again, arms wide, determined face, lifts her foot, and stomps! The earth shakes, and the earth rises around her tiny foot. Again, she giggles, happy to feel the magic within the earth.

You tell her that it’s a great spell (and also a little terrifying), but what you are really curious about is this book that inspired her.

“Oh, of course!” she says. She picks up her staff, and with a wave of her staff and a grumble from the earth, the pond’s terrain rights and evens itself out. “I think this may be one of the most unique and inspiring books I’ve read, friend! It’s called, The Fifth Season…

Summary:

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.

My review:

The Fifth Season is the sort of book where its reputation precedes itself. This was indeed the case for me; I had heard nothing but unanimous and high praises for this book (indeed, each book of the trilogy has won the Hugo Award for Best Novel three years in a ROW), for its worldbuilding, writing, storytelling, and its compelling story. After joining the ranks of fans of this trilogy and experiencing withdrawal after finishing this book so intense that I laid in bed and ruminated about the story – what can I say? Everyone was right. The Fifth Season is brilliant.

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Book Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid – Well, I Cried My Eyes Out Reading This

“Where’s Xiaolong?” you ask, looking for your little axolotl friend.

Varian the Toadshifter looks up at you from their sewing. “Ah, Xiaolong is very sad today.” You ask why, wondering what in the world could make Xiaolong, usually so chipper and happy, so sad! “She read a book,” is all Varian says, and they point in the direction of the pond.

You follow Varian’s webbed finger and, indeed, you see the bright pink of Xiaolong’s gills poking out from behind the brush. As you approach, you hear her sniffling and hiccuping.

Xiaolong the axolotl, wearing an upside down flower hat, holding a book to her chest and crying loudly.Xiaolong looks up at you when you approach, her eyes glistening with tears and her eyes puffy. “Hello friend,” she says, her gills a little droopy. “I just read such an amazing book.” You ask her why she is crying. “The best books are the ones that move your heart and this one moved mine so much.” She starts sobbing again.

“Maybe I should come back another time?” you ask, not wanting to invade her space.

“No!” she exclaims even louder, jumping to her feet. “I must tell you about this book! Because I think you will love it!” she says, tears streaming down her face. You ask her about the book and hand her some tissues – just in case. She takes the tissues from you, dabs her eyes, and with a big inhale says, “So, this book is called The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo…

Summary:

Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds through the decades—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

My review:

Whilst Reid’s previous books explored the lives of ordinary everyday women and the mundane but significant turning points in their lives, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo dives into the extraordinary, grand, and tumultuous life of infamous bombshell classic actress, Evelyn Hugo. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was significantly different to her other books, but what I did not expect was that I would come to love The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo so, so much. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is Reid’s best book yet.

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