There should be a rule when reading fantasy that you’re not allowed to quit reading before 50 pages. I feel like 50 pages in the minimum needed for world building and scene setting. “World building” meaning (for me at least) the figuring out of how the fantastical world is organized in terms of geography, time, politics, social order, customs, etc. Without the 50 page rule I’d probably have quit The Fifth Season and that would have been SAD because it was such a great read. But those first 50 were disorienting as there’s no quick way to be like “here is how this world works” without being obnoxious and pedantic so this reader just had to accept that the logic of the place was going to unfold and eventually I’d know enough of the things to be clear about what was what.
Having finished it I’m not sure I have complete clarity on the politics and geography, but I did get a lot closer to understanding the protagonist(s) and their motivations and connections.
My other rules about reading fantasy: one should not be responsible for other people/work projects/life commitments when two-thirds of the way into a good fantasy novel, there just isn’t the time to deal with real world responsibilities/obligations when a good fantasy novel is underway, so either schedule this reading for vacation or abandon your responsibilities (as I did); it is best to read no fewer than 30 pages in a sitting; internet summaries of plot, while tempting, take away from the pleasure of figuring out the world on your own and make you a lazy reader (okay that’s not a rule so much as a judgement).
What I liked about it:
-An appropriate blurring of good/evil that doesn’t rely (strictly) on archetypal patterns.
-The world building felt complete, logical and cohesive. The explanation and revelation of the world was well paced and engrossing.
-The quest narrative was understated (our protagonist is on a quest to find her daughter) because of shifting points of view and temporalities (and when/how these converge is fantastic).
I am all-in for the series and am hopeful that the particular mythology of the world will get ever clearer in the next instalment, but nevertheless enjoy that part of the pleasure of reading is in figuring out how things and people work in the logic of the world.
2 responses to “The Fifth Season: Rules for Reading Fantasy”
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