This is a real page-turner, the most interesting novel I’ve read in a while. Very good worldbuilding, and a nice “narration twist” as I’ll call it. This book really just sets up the story for (I guess) the following two books; the majority of it is flashbacks of the main character’s life as an Imperial Fulcrum orogene.
The orogenes, or roggas, are individuals with an inherited trait of being able to control earthquakes and the like. For the most part, they are shunned by society, since they are seen as destroyers of civilization and all that’s good — at times past, certain orogenes have either intentionally or accidentally in a fit of passion raised a volcano on their city or something similar. The Fulcrum, a school and governing body of orogenes, is the only authorized user of their powers. It is watched over carefully by the Guardians, superficially polite but under the surface almost cruelly inhumane towards the roggas.
The “Fifth Season” per the title is Death. In this world, catastrophic seismic events which more or less end civilization occur every few hundred years on average. Besides the event itself, the real killer is the years of nuclear winter which usually follow. The different communities, or “comms” are built around vigilance and eternal preparation for surviving the next inevitable apocalypse.
The main event here is an engineered apocalyptic shake, which seems to have the potential for a Fifth Season much longer than ever before. And the instigator is actually one of the “good guys.” I won’t spoil the story any further; just will say that there’s lots of mysteries in the world-building vein which get revealed as the book goes on, only to reveal new mysteries later. I guess that’s the definition of good pacing?? And the narration twist is pretty good.
There was nuclear war and everything burned. Except not quite everything – some people and buildings survived. Close enough though. Thick layers of ash cover everything on the planet; presumably all plants and therefore animals perished. The survivors that are left resort to scrounging around for hidden caches of canned food (either left over from before the disaster or stockpiled by another survivor) or cannibalism. Kind of depressing, no? It’s a dog-eat-dog world, literally. Well, people-eat-people. When the means of production are completely wiped out, what else is left? Quite a horrible, hopeless way to live.
After several years and for unexplained reasons, a man and his son set out on a journey following one of the old roads – probably a highway. Pretty much everyone they encounter is a thief, cannibal, or other scumbag who wants to steal their stuff and eat them. (I guess all the good people have been eaten already!) Somehow in spite of the utter hopelessness around him, the boy has an optimistic spirit — he always wants to help people, even though nobody has ever helped them. (But his father has certainly helped the boy; maybe that’s where he gets it from.) The father struggles with the boy’s desire to give away supplies or otherwise endanger their security by helping others. What’s the greater good, helping others or protecting family? Hard to say, but I think most parents would side with the father in this story.
Luckily there’s a happy ending. The father dies, but the boy ends up with the first other good folk we meet in the book.