Saturday, April 1, 2017

Review: The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
Published: Orbit, 2016
Series: Book 2 of The Broken Earth

Beware some spoilers of book 1, The Fifth Season, below!

The Book:

“A world-wrecking Season is underway, and Essun’s search for her daughter has reached a dead end. She remains in the underground city of Castrima, a community that claims to accept orogenes as equals.  Castrima may also be the final home of her former mentor and lover, Alabaster, who is now dying. Even if there is no forgiveness between them, he needs her to perform a dangerous task that he no longer has the power to undertake.  

In the meantime, Essun’s orogene daughter Nassun travels with a father that struggles to reconcile his love for his daughter with his conviction that all orogenes should be killed on sight.  He is intent on finding a way to ‘cure’ his daughter, but their bond is already poisoned by the hatred he carries. She will find a new kind of guardian at her destination, as well as a new focus for her life and considerable talents.” ~Allie

I loved The Fifth Season, and I am excited to continue Essun’s story.  I would definitely recommend reading this series in order.  Also, to note, I don’t normally give all the books I review 4.5-5 stars.  I’m just in the middle of a stretch of reading really good books.

My Thoughts:

While much of the story of The Fifth Season takes place during a relatively stable period in the history of the Stillness, The Obelisk Gate starts and continues firmly in apocalyptic territory. The environment is changing, and there’s no guarantee that humanity will be able to endure until the world becomes stable again.  In this world, the Seasons are uncommon but not unexpected, so people fall back on harsh lore that they hope will help them survive.  The conditions stress the characters to their breaking points, and force them to center day-to-day survival as their goal.  The story mostly follows two viewpoint characters, Essun and her daughter Nassun, as they find shelter in two very different communes.  There are a number of parallels in their stories, and it is interesting to see the differences in how they each come to see the world.

The Obelisk Gate sometimes lacks the momentum of the first book in the series, but this allows for an interesting exploration of the richly complex characters.  This is the kind of story where no one is completely admirable, but their reasoning and actions feel emotionally authentic.  This can sometimes be uncomfortable, as their relationships generally lack the definite moments of closure or reconciliation that I guess I have come to expect in fiction. Of the main characters, I feel closest to Essun. While she makes some horrific decisions, I can understand and sympathize with the impulses behind them.  Underneath everything, right now I feel like she is a good person who is constantly forced to make impossible choices.  The situation with Nassun and her father Jija is simply heartbreaking.  No child should ever have to manipulate their own parent into caring for them, or to live in fear of violence from the one that should protect them.  That being said, I am worried about the path that Nassun is currently following, and the harm it is likely to cause to so many people.  There are many memorable moments between the characters, and I hope that the final book in the trilogy leaves them in a better state than they are right now.

The Obelisk Gate also expands considerably on the nature of the world and orogene.  Some questions from the first novel are beginning to be answered, and I feel like I have a better sense of what the endgame is going to involve.  I enjoyed learning more about the origins of the stone eaters and guardians, and to see both Essun and Nassun developing and refining their skills in orogeny.  I was surprised that orogeny is explicitly labeled as magic, probably because so much in the world feels very physical and explainable.  As one would hope after the second book in a trilogy (the darkest of the three acts), I can’t see right now how the story can ultimately have any kind of happy ending.  I’m anxious to see how things will turn out for Essun and the others, and thus impatient for the final novel, The Stone Sky, to come out this August!  

My Rating: 4.5 /5

The Obelisk Gate is a sequel that lives up to the impressive, award-winning first novel of the series, The Fifth Season. Now fully an apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic story, the novel follows the roughly parallel stories of Essun and her missing daughter, Nassun. There was less action in this middle part of the trilogy, since the main characters stick with the communes that have accepted them as conditions worsened.  However, there was considerable development in terms of the characters and their understanding of the world they inhabit.  The main characters are a major draw of the story, as they are both deeply flawed and deeply human.  I am loving this series so far, and will certainly pick up The Stone Sky when it is available this August.

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