The Fifth Season by N K Jemisin

Masterful.

Jemisin’s mentioned in several interviews that this was a hard book for her to write, one that she almost deleted and quit on several times. Given the difficulty of what she’s achieved — weaving second-person narration together with multiple storylines that take place entirely in flashback — I can understand. I’m glad she persevered, though, because this is a wonderful book.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • Using second person can be useful for handling certain situations: when a character has amnesia, for example, or when they’re shifting from one identity to another. Saying ‘you’ eliminated the need to juggle multiple names, or even care about them.
  • Sadly, prejudice and cruelty in characters can make them seem more, not less, human.
  • When introducing new terms — as one often does in sci-fi or fantasy — it helps to have different characters use them, each in their own way. The repetition with slight variation colors in the definition for readers.