Top positive review
Just as complex as The Fifth Season while expanding on its world and characters
Reviewed in the United States on August 30, 2016
The sequel to the Hugo Award winning The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin's The Obelisk Gate returns to the Stillness as the aftermath of its latest natural disaster takes hold. Essun, the earth-manipulating orogene from TFS, has chosen to stay in the settlement of Castrima to help them with (for lack of a better word) "doomsday preparations" and to train with her former mentor Alabaster Tenring. What is Alabaster's mission for her? A staggering feat that, if successful, could seal the fate of their world. Meanwhile, Essun's 10-year-old daughter Nassun, who was kidnapped in TFS, journeys with her volatile father to a community rumored to "cleanse" orogenes of their powers. Yet Nassun's gifts rapidly mature, and she learns to use them in unimaginable ways - with consequences that could weigh just as heavy as those from her mother's task.
I'm sure that summary will confuse people who haven't read this series yet. But it's difficult to say more without revealing too much of The Obelisk Gate's incredible world-building and the story itself. We learn much more about the Stillness, especially the obelisks and the stone eaters. Questions that were posed during TFS are answered, and more mysteries arise. There were also moments when I ached for Essun, Nassun, Alabaster, and Essun's stone-eater friend Hoa. (That Hoa scene in particular nearly made me cry.) All the emotional investment and immersion made The Obelisk Gate impossible to put down - and when I was forced to put it down, I couldn't stop thinking about it.
Normally I'd use this space for criticisms... But I have none. Sure, The Obelisk Gate is intricate in its plotting and unorthodox in structure (e.g., Jemisin still uses second-person narration for Essun's chapters). But after reading TFS and other novels by Jemisin over the past year, I've learned she has reasons for her unconventional choices - and those reasons always reveal themselves in time. So I sat back, absorbed each chapter's events and the characters' choices, and let my speculations percolate. And based on The Obelisk Gate's climax... Oh my word. The Broken Earth is shaping up to be an outstanding trilogy, and I'm so nervous-yet-scared-to-death for its finale next year. Fantasy readers who haven't started this series need to get on it - but make sure you start with The Fifth Season, because The Obelisk Gate won't make sense otherwise.