Review: The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

September 7, 2016
Review: The Obelisk Gate by N.K. JemisinThe Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
Series: The Broken Earth #2
Published by Orbit Books on August 16 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 448
Format: Finished paperback
Source: Publisher

Thanks to Orbit Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

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The Fifth Season was one of my top ten books of 2015, and so I was beyond excited to start reading the second book in the series, The Obelisk Gate. I’m happy to say it was a more than worthy follow-up and I enjoyed it immensely. I have to admit I enjoyed The Fifth Season just a touch more, due to the slower pace of The Obelisk Gate and a slightly more confusing story structure. But overall this is a wonderfully intricate story with multilayered characters, a story that demands you pay attention and savor every new revelation. As she did in the first book, Jemisin treats her readers as intelligent beings and forces you to make many of the connections without spelling everything out. Be warned: this is a series you must read in order. Do not attempt to read The Obelisk Gate without reading The Fifth Season first. You will be lost, I guarantee. Also, there are some mild spoilers ahead if you haven’t read the first book.

Jemisin’s story alternates between two main points of view, with a third (and even a fourth, if you count the “interludes”) thrown in at times just to shake things up. Essun, the main character of The Fifth Season, continues to shine in this story. When the story begins, she has joined a “comm” (a community formed during a Season where like-minded folk ban together to survive) called Castrima, where she finds a number of other orogenes, Guardians and even stone eaters living more or less peacefully amongst “stills” (those who are not orogenes). Castrima is mostly underground and for this reason is considerably safer than comms that are above ground. Essun thinks it might be just the place for her to learn more about her powers and her place in the world, especially since she’s reunited with an old friend. But outside forces are beginning to threaten Castrima and disrupt their peaceful lives, and it will take everyone’s cooperation to survive these fast approaching threats.

The other main point of view is that of ten-year-old Nassun, Essun’s missing daughter from The Fifth Season. Nassun was only mentioned in the last book, but here she gets a starring role. After her father Jija murders her younger brother for being an orogene, Jija kidnaps Nassun and takes her on a journey to a place where she might be “cured” of her orogeny. Despite his overt hatred of orogenes (and Nassun is a very powerful one), she loves her father and will do almost anything he asks. They arrive at a comm where a group of young orogenes are training to hone their skills, but Jija is convinced the Founded Moon will cure Nassun and make her “normal.” Meanwhile, Nassun is doing just the opposite and her powers are getting even stronger.

And back at Castrima, Essun is calling to the obelisks, gigantic objects of great power that float through the sky and hold untold mysteries and might even affect the Seasons themselves.

Once again Jemisin’s world building blew me away. She delves deeper into the abilities of the orogenes and explains more about their connection to the Earth and how they hold the power of life and death in their hands. Even Essun, who is an experienced orogene, can’t always control herself when it comes to her powers. Both Essun and Nassun end up killing people by accident during the story, which just proves how immensely powerful an orogene is, no matter her age.

For the uninitiated, a “Season” is a long period of time that follows a natural catastrophe, like an earthquake or a tsunami (and is usually caused by an orogene). During a Season, a variety of horrors present themselves, but each resembles a post-apocalyptic nightmare where people struggle to find food and shelter. In addition, many insects and animals go through changes in order to adapt, and there is a particularly horrific insect called a boilbug in this story that gave me the creeps! One of Castrima’s issues is that they are not only running out of meat, but it’s becoming more and more dangerous to send hunting parties out to find it.

We also get more time with the stone eaters in this book, mysterious creatures who resemble statues and yes, eat stone. Jemisin still doesn’t fully explain their purpose, and their relationship with the orogenes is complex and strange. But they are oddly compelling, especially a stone eater named Hoa who has an unexplained connection to the obelisks.

I mentioned a third point of view, from a Guardian named Schaffa who also appeared in the first book. Here, Schaffa only appears briefly, but I got the feeling that he’ll play a bigger part in the final book of the trilogy. Schaffa knew Essun when she went by the name Syenite, and so these chapters are especially confusing and you may even need to brush up on The Fifth Season to remember all the intricate details. In this book, Schaffa nearly drowns, but is saved by an entity that makes a terrible bargain with him. In her typical fashion, Jemisin gives us only glimpses of what’s going on with Schaffa, holding her secrets for the big reveal at the end of the series (or at least I hope that’s what she’s doing!)

My only complaint is that the pace felt slower than the first book. In The Fifth Season, the characters are on journeys and there is almost constant movement. Here, most everyone has settled down and is preparing for the final battle. In that sense it felt very much like a “middle book,” but I hesitate to say that because as far as middle books go, it’s one of the best I’ve ever read.

By the end of the story, Jemisin has laid out her course for the third book and revealed some startling facts about the obelisks, the orogenes, and a sinister alien presence. And yet, she still doesn’t give much away, which makes me even more anxious to finish this series and finally understand everything. Several emotional and heartbreaking moments brought tears to my eyes, a reminder of Jemisin’s powerful writing skills. If you haven’t started The Broken Earth trilogy, go grab a copy of The Fifth Season immediately and get reading! (It did just win the Hugo for best novel, you know.)

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