Have you ever been so excited for a book only to feel you may have hyped it up too much in your head? I often get a lot of surprised reactions when I give a popular book less than 4-stars. I follow the Goodreads rating system* because my ratings are greatly influenced by how I feel after reading. If you’ve seen me finish a book and not give it a rating, it’s because I let it ‘sit’ for a few days to give myself time to process how I really liked it.
The Fifth Season has been praised and loved by many and it was awarded the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2016. I was very excited to read this book when it first came out. Fantasy is my favourite genre and I’ve been wanting a new author with a book I could sink my teeth into.
The Fifth Season was just not it. And I think it’s mainly because of the writing.
It’s not because the book switches between three characters. It’s not even about having one POV written in second person (which I love) with the others written in third. It’s not even about having chapters that end in a cliffhanger, only to go to the next one focusing on a different character. I can’t point out exactly what it is, but I just couldn’t fully lose myself in the story.
Don’t get me wrong. There were times when I definitely got going. I thought ‘okay, here we go, let’s do this’ but as the momentum kept going, I’d hit a wall and feel ‘when is this going to end? I still have x amount of pages?’ I know, I know, it’s only the first book. There’s a lot of worldbuilding and new terms that need to be laid out. There are histories and info dumps to be expected. I hear you, my friends. I do. I don’t even mind those things but I think this was an exception. There were too many terms to keep up with and not as much time to help me get used to them. There were Appendixes at the end of the book that greatly benefited my understanding of the book after I read it, but there were many times when I just crossed my fingers and hoped it would all click into place.
Most of the time, I could ignore all of what I just talked about if I feel connected to the characters. That was also lacking for me and more than anything, that was what made or broke it. I’m a very character-focused reader so connection is key. I’m not looking for perfect characters. I’m not even looking for ones I could relate to that much (ok this is a stretch, of course it’s better if they’re relatable). I’m just looking to care.
I need to be convinced that a character truly feels what they say they’re feeling and not feel like I’m just being told what to believe. I loved two of the secondary characters in the Fifth Season and I can’t wait to read more about them. I cared what happened to them, I wanted them to be okay, and I rooted for them. My biggest gripe, I think, is that I couldn’t feel the same about the protagonist. I felt disconnected. I’m also tired of characters who are hostile to many people they interact with. (I know it’s because of what they’ve gone through, I know) But you can have a character who’s gone to hell and back, who’s flawed, and still be likable. You can have a character that can be angry and you’re angry with them because somewhere along the way, you’ve come to start fighting for the same things they believe in.
Maybe I just read this book at the wrong time.
I still liked the book, by the way! That might be hard to believe after everything I’ve said but I loved the second person POV and I adore the magic system. I think orogeny is amazing. It’s definitely one of the most unique things I’ve read this year AND it greatly reminds me of Earth bending from Avatar: The Last Airbender (that’s an A+ series)! Orogenes are people with the ability to manipulate and draw power from the earth. They can cause or quell earthquakes and they could also influence the temperature around them. I used to want to be a geologist as a kid (among other things) so this was very fascinating for me.
Do I recommend The Fifth Season? Yes! I almost feel bad posting this but please keep in mind that my experience with the book doesn’t necessarily predict yours. I read this book with six friends who loved it more than I did and I trust their reading tastes 👌🏼
Will I read more Jemisin? Heck, yes! I’m hoping to start Obelisk Gate soon and I’m looking forward to seeing how much I’ll enjoy it.
1 star – did not like it
2 stars – it was ok
3 stars – liked it
4 stars – really liked it
5 stars – it was amazing
Have you experienced something similar with a highly rated book?