If someone ever asks you who my favorite author is, I want you to tell them that it’s N.K. Jemisin. Not that old man in New Mexico, not the lady from the UK, not even Tamora Pierce. Nora K. Jemisin. Tell them I love her; tell them she destroyed my life. I’ve been screaming her praises for the past year, and nothing in this world can make me regret it. Why? Because The Fifth Season was phenomenal, and its sequel, The Obelisk Gate, did not disappoint.
Picking up almost directly from the end of The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate is essentially about Essun’s quest to save what remains of the world, if only to have some place to continue rasing her still-missing daughter, Nassun. Nassun, on the other hand, learns how to cope in a world that fears her, with a father that despises her.
A year later, and I’m still terrible with these summaries.
Now, I’m going to try and talk about the book without giving away too much about the story, but if you’re too much of a puritan, then you might want to stop here. The book is great, you should totally go read it. If you’ve only read The Fifth Season once, it’s going to mess you up. If you’ve read The Fifth Season more than once, The Obelisk Gate will still mess you up, but you’ll feel slightly validated by something. One thing. Maybe not even that much. It really depends on how you interpreted the first book.
In any case, stop here if you’re easily spoiled.
So one thing that Jemisin does, that sets this book apart from the first, is clarify who the narrator is. We are actually told who it is in The Fifth Season, but the fact that it had to be specifically pointed out very early in the sequel tells me that everybody didn’t catch it. I am honestly not surprised, because we had spent so much time in the different stages of Essun that it became so easy to assume that she was the overall narrator. Now that we’re going into other people’s heads, we have to all be on the same page about who would have all of this knowledge without actually being able to know the endgame of the story.
We also revisit quite a few other things in The Obelisk Gate that were introduced in the first book. We learn more about the Gaurdians, but we still don’t make it to Warrant so there’s probably more of a story there. We find out about the stone eaters, and we kind of know how they become that way, but we’re still not sure what made them that way. (That might be a reread). Also, we revisit what happened to Uche.
Essun really should have chosen someone stronger to have children with.
I remember thinking – during my second read of The Fifth Season – that Jija might have been some kind of rogue Gaurdian. Because why else would Nassun have kids with anyone who wasn’t powerful, after having been with Alabaster and Innon? But no, Jija is just some random who happened to know about rocks. That could have been why Essun chose Jija, but I’m convinced that there was something else going on with that. However, I’ll leave that for another post.
I like that The Obelisk Gate offers us Nassun’s view of life, because it’s so strikingly different from Essun’s. I wanted to hate Nassun like I used to hate Sansa Stark, but thinking of Nassun that way made me understand her better. Essun’s story is of revenge, but Nassun’s is of survival and acceptance. And even though Essun had prepared her daughter to survive, she forgot to explain where she was coming from. This in turn leads to Nassun being so willing to go with her murderous father, and ultimately falling into the hands of the kind of people that her mother had wanted to protect her from.
(So that was kind of a spoiler, but not really.)
I think that this is probably the most that I can talk about without spoiling the book, so I’ll stop here. It’s a little frustrating, but The Obelisk Gate legitimately hasn’t been out a full month yet. I know some people are still waiting for their books to be delivered, and others are still waiting for it to be released in their country. I feel for them, so I’ll be nice about this review.
However, if you’ve already read the book and want to discuss it with me, you can always hit up my About page and message me via your preferred method of communication/ social media.
I cannot stress how much you need to get into NK Jemisin’s The Broken Earth series. It is beyond phenomenal. I will admit that The Obelisk Gate is not mind-blowingly better than The Fifth Season, but I neither expected nor wanted it to be. Don’t get me wrong, The Obelisk Gate is an awesome book, but it’s still the bridge between the setup and the conclusion. Jemisin does a great job of answering enough of our questions to keep us going, but not all of them. Her world-building is ridiculously good, and you can tell that this series is well-plotted out.
There’s no way to read this book as a standalone, but if you needed something relatively quick to get your interest I recommend reading “Stone Hunger”. From what I can tell, “Stone Hunger” is a short story that predates The Fifth Season publishing-wise, but is basically set in the same universe well after the series ends.
It’s essentially about a female orogene whose village was destroyed by another orogene whom she has taken to hunting in order to get revenge. Orogenes aren’t actually named in this story, so you can tell that it was written while The Fifth Season was probably still in its first draft. It’s also noticeable how the main character’s orogene is nothing like any we have seen so far, to the point where anyone who has read the series might think that the girl is a stone eater at best.
Still, I think that “Stone Hunger” is a great way to pique someone’s interest in The Broken Earth series.
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