The Fifth Season - Heavy and intense, but fantastic

The Fifth Season is set in a world where major tectonic activity almost never ceases. Every couple of hundred years or so, there is an extinction-level event. The book explores what society and civilisation and everything would look like in a world like that. Which is an interesting setting! But also intense.

What I really like about The Fifth Season is that it builds a world, and then fully commits to it. From characters to society, architecture, lore, history, and slang, it all behaves and interacts in a way that makes sense in-universe, making the world feel incredibly alive and easy to immerse yourself into.

There are what are essentially earthbenders from “Avatar: the Last Airbender”; people who can control the plate tectonics, earthquakes, and, with enough training, volcanoes. These are monitored and controlled by the government because they can be used both as weapons but also for, for example, keeping your village alive by clearing landslides blocking travel and trade. Which is a service the government provides. For a fee.

With the world being as it is, everything is survival focused. Every place has a food store because you need to be prepared for when the sun will be blotted out by an ash cloud. Metal is considered a relatively cheap and poor material, because when the acid rain comes after the next volcanic eruption, it will rust and be broken very easily. Balconies are a ludicrously extravagant thing to have, because when the next earthquake hits it will need repairing. Living by the seaside is considered dangerous (and living on islands straight-up suicidal), because it is basically impossible to guard against when the next tsunami will hit.

And yet, it all feels alive because of a completely believable and relatable amount of humanness. There are rivalries, pettiness, love, and hope. Everyone persists, goes about their lives, establishes families, creates art, etc. because nobody thinks it’ll actually be during their lifetime that the next cataclysm occurs.
Which, of course, is part of why it also feels so heavy when the book is set during it.

And those parts are almost too well-written. The explorations of / insights into characters going through trauma, coming to terms with the end of the world and having lost everything, having to actually apply the survival techniques their predecessors came up with, are very well-written. Which sometimes makes for a harrowing experience, but also does really help make the characters feel alive and believable! Nobody is The Hero that magically has the physical strength or mental capacity to cope with everything when no-one else does. Which adds to the immersion and worldbuilding.

Speaking of, the worldbuilding is also beautifully done. Snippets of lore or history are included at the end of every chapter, helping create this sensation that the world is truly ancient, full of long-gone civilisations and history, and this book is only telling a tiny section of the world’s existence. The book also uses one of my favourite world-building tools: local dialect! Common words, sayings, and swears all make sense in-universe, and it creates some fantastic immersion. For example, the word “rust” is used analogously to serious swears in our world: “rust it all” or “stupid, rusting <person>!”

If you’ve read “The Edge Chronicles”, I think you’ll enjoy The Fifth Season because it does some similar things in terms of lore, world, and interactions. It is not a light-hearted read (in case you were still wondering), particularly at the start, but it is incredibly captivating and interesting, and I am getting the next book in the series as soon as I can.

Thomas Ekström Hansen
Thomas Ekström Hansen
PhD student in Computer Science

My interests include information visualisation, formal methods, and low-level programming.