The Gold Star of Writing: N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season

Show Notes for Episode 2.1

The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin (2015)

BBE is back for Season 2! We are so excited to present our very first episode on Books We Love. We put our listeners to the test at the end of last season to see which themes we should use for Season 2 and Books We Love won for our regular season episodes, while Movie Magic was the fan favorite for our bonus episodes. Shockingly, we are ecstatic to talk about books we are actually interested in and picked ourselves! Imagine that! But all jokes aside, we hope to have a great season ranting and raving over some of our absolute favs and screaming at producers who have butchered some quality novels. For our very first episode, Paige picked a real doozy: N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. Read on for the links and resources mentioned in the episode and a summary of our discussion.

Quick Links from the Episode

  • Here is an article on Bill Gates’ purchase of the Codex Leicester, which also gives more details on the journal as well as some beautiful photographs. Even though Gates paid a pretty penny for this Da Vinci masterpiece, he does let it out of his sight about once a year for it to go on display at various museums. Maybe you can catch it at a museum near you in the future…if covid ever let’s us out of the house again?
  • As Jennifer mentioned in the episode, the Codex Leicester is written in Da Vinci’s unique mirror writing style. Here is an article detailing that a bit more, as well as theories as to why Da Vinci wrote this way.
  • Da Vinci was one of the prime examples of the concept of the Renaissance man, which referred to the Renaissance belief that man could pursue knowledge in its entirety. Once you’ve looked over the concept of the Renaissance man, why not just look into Renaissance humanism? The Wikipedia article has an excellent list of further readings as well.
  • If you want to know more about N.K. Jemisin and her books, visit her website.
  • Aaaand here is some fun trivia about The Broken Earth series.
  • We are also excited to announce that we are an affiliate for Bookshop.org. Jennifer is really not sure what link she said in the actual episode, but she’s pretty sure she got it wrong. If you’d like to check out our store to order books we are reviewing in Season 2, click here.
  • Finally, in our Creatives’ Corner segment, Paige mentioned her new favorite podcast, Our Fake History, a must for any history buff.
For those unfamiliar with the three main body types, see the diagram above. The Sanzed beauty standard in The Fifth Season preferred the mesomorph and endomorph body types. Jennifer was going to link to an actual article about body types, but all she could find were articles about weight loss, which is pretty garbage-y.
Here is a magnificent photo of Tina Turner in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985). This is the image Jemisin drew inspiration from for her Sanzed beauty ideal, particularly the “ash blown” hair.

Main Points from the Episode

  • Who is N.K. Jemisin? N.K. Jemisin is basically a total badass. She has a background in psychology, but has been hugely successful as an author as well. She was not only the first black author to win a Hugo award, but she won three in a row (!!!), making her debut trilogy record-breaking as well.
  • We spent quite a lot of time on summary during this episode, because the worldbuilding for this fantasy was so intricate, and the story was complex besides. Essentially, the narrative centers around three main characters: Essun, Damaya, and Syenite. They are orogens, the magic users of a world called the Stillness, which is ironic given its completely chaotic nature. We’re talking The Day After Tomorrow kind of stuff. Orogens harness these natural forces, which makes them powerful, but also dangerous in the eyes of the dominant ruling culture, the Sanzed. The Fifth Season follows Essun, Damaya, and Syenite as they navigate this tumultuous and violent world.
  • One of the main questions this book prompted was what makes good worldbuilding? For Jennifer, good worldbuilding is texturally rich and follows an internal logic. Some good examples of this are Tolkien (duh), Erica Lindquist in the Reforged trilogy, Katherine Arden in the Winternight trilogy, and Tomi Adeyemi in the Legacy of Orisha series. Jennifer also argued that authors have to be careful how they present worldbuilding, they can’t reveal too much or too little, and it has to feel natural. This can be a difficult balance to find. For Paige, good worldbuilding is in the small details. For example, in this week’s book, the swear words are based around the word “rust”, which makes sense in a culture that is revolves around ‘stone lore’ and where metal is actually seen as a less stable material due to the environment.
  • Paige was also curious about Jennifer’s thoughts on the constant emphasis on the Sanzed beauty ideal throughout the book. Jemisin creates a unique beauty standard that the Sanzed are literally obsessed with. This includes being over six feet tall, having “ash-blown” hair a la Tina Turner, and the body types mentioned above. Nearly every character is measured against this standard in one way or another, consciously or unconsciously. The only thing that even came close that Jennifer could think of was Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series. While it stuck out to Paige as being strange, Jennifer agreed with her that this was most likely because as white and white passing individuals they aren’t often reminded that they don’t fit into the Western ideal of beauty – which includes white or light skin. By creating a beauty standard that most (all?) readers do not identify with, N.K. Jemisin has been able to recreate to some degree an experience that her white readers often have the privilege of avoiding or being unaware of in real life. So a very thought-provoking inclusion all around.
  • Paige gave The Fifth Season 6 out of 5 stars, and let’s be honest, that is probably going to be every book this regular season.

Coming up next: Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. If you are enjoying the podcast, please consider leaving us a review, and to keep up with all the BBE news, follow us on social media. If you are interested in supporting the podcast, head on over to Bookshop.org/shop/bigbookenergy, or visit our Patreon (linked below). Until next time!

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