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. [Source]
If you’ve ever seen AMC’s The Walking Dead, you’ll have noticed that episodes of the show tend to follow a very predictable pattern. Something really interesting and surprising happens in the first ten minutes, which grabs your interest and makes you excited to keep watching. This is followed by roughly thirty minutes of aimless wandering, idle chatter, and speeches about the unfairness of life, during which time you zone out and mostly stare at your phone. Then, in the last three minutes there is another interesting and surprising event which leaves you hungrily awaiting the next episode.
The Fifth Season is the high fantasy novel equivalent of an episode of The Walking Dead.
The set-up is narrated in the second-person and introduces you to the main cast of characters. A woman is mourning the death of her son at the hands of her husband. A mysterious figure in a shining city causes untold destruction. An ambitious acolyte takes on an undesired task. It is written in a way that reminded me of death’s narration in The Book Thief, distant but personal at the same time. Things were off to a good start.
The problem comes when Author N. K. Jemisin continues to employ that second-person narrative style in every chapter focused on Essun, the main female protagonist. Rather than adding an extra layer to the story, switching back and forth from the second to the third voice was incredibly jarring. It pulled me out of the story time and time again.
After its promising beginning, The Fifth Season spends the bulk of it’s 350+ pages moving various characters from one place to another. This offers multiple opportunities to explore the land and peoples inhabited in this world, but also becomes increasingly tedious as time goes on. At some point my curiosity dwindled, and I no longer cared very much about the fate of the broken Earth or its residents.
My rating: 3/5
You can find The Fifth Season here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.
Happy reading everyone!
One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains of North America.
Everyone loves a good post-apocalyptic novel! Station Eleven has been on my to-read list for over a year and I finally got a chance to read it after finishing my 100th book review last week.
The first thing I enjoyed about this novel was that Emily St. John Mandel has taken pains to ground her apocalypse firmly in the real world. This is not The Walking Dead where gasoline never goes bad and everyone has perfectly tweezed eyebrows. The merry troupe of the Traveling Symphony is unwashed and their horse-drawn caravan is worn. Young people are growing up hearing about extinct and mythic wonders such as electricity and internet.
The added element of the twisting, meandering timeline works well in Station Eleven, giving the scenes set in the past a dreamy, nostalgic feel. Since the main plot revolves around a character who dies in the first chapter, we view him from a multitude of perspectives. The people whose lives the actor touched weave together and interlock throughout the novel.
In a way, this was the most loving post-apocalyptic novel I’ve ever read. Not necessarily in the romantic sense, but in the way that Mandel paints such a sentimental portrait of everyday items. Characters often glance longingly at light switches, air conditioners, and iPhones and I found myself appreciating all the many small conveniences that my small apartment affords me.
Most end-of-the-world novels have some sort of all-powerful antagonist that has driven humanity to the brink of extinction. Nuclear weapons, zombies, aliens have all played this role in the past. Station Eleven felt very different because it lacked a primary villain. The closest thing to a looming threat would be a cult of religious fanatics lead by a power-hungry prophet, but even they lack any real sense of menace. Almost as if the events of Stephen King’s The Stand had occurred without the dueling battling between Good and Evil. As if Randall Flagg had never walked the Earth and instead the lonely remnants of a barren new world live by one simple motivation. Survival is insufficient.
My rating: 4/5
You can find Station Eleven here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.
Happy reading everyone!
Somewhere in the near future humanity has been decimated by the combination of nuclear winter and a fatal flu pandemic. Deep in the wilds of the Yukon, Lynn and her family have been forced to learn how to survive in this harsh new environment. Their fragile existence is shattered when a mysterious lone figure shows up at their cabin, bringing with him the shadows of the world they left behind.
This is author Tyrell Johnson’s debut, and he does an excellent job of drawing us in to the cold snows of Canadian winter. The opening chapters are like a post-apocalyptic Little House on the Prairie. We meet Lynn McBride as she is hunting, and are later introduced to the rest of her small family, all of whom work hard to pull their weight in the harsh Northern climate.
As a heroine, Lynn is vulnerable enough that we believe when she is in danger, while also being resourceful enough to hold her own against both her enemies and the elements. She is yet another example of the “bow-and-arrow” girl that has become so popular in YA literature. I get the appeal of the bow-and-arrow girl. The weapon has the feminine undertones of Diana the Huntress while still being effective at bringing home food. It also doesn’t carry with it the negative connotations associated with firearms. The bow is the “sexy” way to hunt. Just once, I would love to see a YA heroine who hunts using a boomerang. Or a blowgun.
There were parts of the novel when I wondered if Lynn was initially written to be much younger than the twenty-three year old that appears in the book. Maybe Johnson re-wrote her character to be older when he decided to make her sexually active? It was more of a curiosity, and didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book. There are aspects of The Wolves of Winter to entertain both older teens and adults.
This would be a great novel to read while sitting inside sipping a mug of hot chocolate while a blizzard rages outside.
My rating: 4/5
You can find The Wolves of Winter here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.
Happy reading everyone!