The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season


N. K. Jemisin

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The Fifth Season Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on N. K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of N. K. Jemisin

N. K. Jemisin was born in Iowa and raised by her mother in Alabama and her father in New York City. Growing up, she was close with her cousin W. Kamau Bell, who is now a comic and CNN host. Jemisin went on to study psychology at Tulane University and counseling at the University of Maryland, and has worked as a counseling psychologist alongside her writing career until 2016, when she raised funds through Patreon to allow her to write full-time. A member of several writing groups, Jemisin published her first novel in 2010, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which was also the first book of her award-winning Inheritance trilogy. All three novels of her Broken Earth trilogy (of which The Fifth Season is the first) won Hugo Awards for Best Novel, making her the first Black writer to win in that category. Jemisin received the MacArthur Genius Grant in 2020, and continues to live and work in Brooklyn, New York, writing novels, short stories, and articles.
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Historical Context of The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season takes place in an entirely invented world, but the novel’s themes draw from many cultures and events throughout history. Perhaps most notable is the comparison between anti-orogene oppression and anti-Black racism in America, with its long history beginning with the Atlantic trade of enslaved people from the 1500s to the mid-1800s, all the way through the Jim Crow laws beginning in the late 1800s and contemporary issues like mass incarceration. The frequent apocalyptic “Seasons” of the Stillness (some of them caused by orogenes) also relate to human-affected climate change on Earth, which largely began with the Industrial Revolution was first recognized in the late 1800s. Many experts believe that global climate change will fundamentally affect, and is already affecting, our survival on this planet.

Other Books Related to The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season is the first novel of the Broken Earth trilogy, followed by The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky, which follow the same characters and plot line. Much of Jemisin’s work also shares many themes with that of Octavia Butler. Butler was a pioneer of Black speculative fiction, and her novels The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents particularly relate to The Fifth Season, as both are set in apocalyptic worlds facing crises of racism, climate catastrophe, and economic collapse. Other notable figures in the Black science fiction tradition are Samuel R. Delany, author of Dhalgren and Babel-17, and Nalo Hopkinson, author of Skin Folk and Brown Girl in the Ring. Despite its fantastical elements and multi-culture and species characters, Jemisin’s work (like Butler’s) is often also grouped into the Afrofuturist genre, which includes works like Nancy Farmer’s The Ear, The Eye, and the Arm and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ The Black Panther comics.
Key Facts about The Fifth Season
  • Full Title: The Fifth Season
  • Where Written: Brooklyn, New York
  • When Published: 2015
  • Literary Period: Contemporary Speculative Fiction
  • Genre: Speculative Fiction, Science Fantasy
  • Setting: The supercontinent called the Stillness and its surrounding islands
  • Climax: The Guardian attack at Meov
  • Antagonist: Jija, the Guardians, anti-orogene oppression
  • Point of View: Essun’s sections are written in the second person and Damaya and Syenite’s in the third person, all of them from the perspective of a first-person narrator

Extra Credit for The Fifth Season

Inspiration. As part of her research for the Broken Earth trilogy, Jemisin took a volcano tour of Hawaii, wanting to experience first-hand a landscape and society frequently disrupted by seismic activity.

Pioneer. Jemisin is the first author to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel three times in a row—once for each book of the Broken Earth trilogy.