The Obelisk Gate

Prior to reading The Fifth Season a few weeks back, although N. K. Jemisin had won the Hugo Award for best novel twice, I had only read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms from her. That novel was a solid debut, no question. And yet, like most speculative fiction debuts, it featured a number of flaws. Most notably a first-person narrative, which is always tricky, a corny love story, and some decidedly clichéd villains. Still, overall, Jemisin's fantasy debut turned out to be an imaginative and enjoyable read. And even if the characterization was subpar, the author scored points for exploring themes such as slavery, sexism, racism, and the abuse of power. She wove these deeper issues throughout the various storylines, sometimes subtly in the background and sometimes in more flagrant fashion. Regardless of how it was done, this was what ultimately gave soul to the novel.

Though I was in no hurry to continue on with the Inheritance trilogy, this was what made me want to read The Fifth Season. Everyone opined that this was her best work to date, so I decided that this was the book I had to read next. And I'm sure glad I did, for The Fifth Season delivered on all fronts. Now I know why it was nominated for all those genre literary prizes.

Even better, the sequel also won the Hugo Award for best novel. Building on its predecessor's plotlines, Jemisin elevates her game even more in this second installment, making The Obelisk Gate an even better novel. The Broken Earth trilogy is definitely shaping up to be one of the most original SFF series of the new millennium and I'm looking forward to discovering how it will all come together in The Stone Sky.

Here's the blurb:


The season of endings grows darker as civilization fades into the long cold night. Alabaster Tenring – madman, world-crusher, savior – has returned with a mission: to train his successor, Essun, and thus seal the fate of the Stillness forever.

It continues with a lost daughter, found by the enemy.

It continues with the obelisks, and an ancient mystery converging on answers at last.

The Stillness is the wall which stands against the flow of tradition, the spark of hope long buried under the thickening ashfall. And it will not be broken.

The Obelisk Gate is another blend of fantasy and science fiction. More fantasy than scifi, mind you, but there is science involved in the premise. The worldbuilding is particularly interesting and just might be my favorite facet of this novel. The Earth has changed dramatically and has become an extremely geologically unstable world. Seismic activities cause enormous volcanic eruptions and tsunamis that wipe out vast chunks of the planet's population periodically. These catastrophes generating extended winters are known as Fifth Seasons and they can last for years and decades. The Stillness is the only continent known to exist. Orogenes have the ability to manipulate thermal, kinetic, and related forms of energy to address seismic events. Trained at the Fulcrum and closely supervised by the Guardian order, they are despised and feared due to the potentially devastating powers they wield. In addition to the Fulcrum, there is also a network of nodes manned by orogenes positioned throughout the Stillness to help reduce or quell seismic events. Such an unstable and unforgiving environment makes for a truly original setting, something that we haven't seen before, and I loved everything about it. The Fifth Season began with a new breaking of the world, one that might signal the true end of existence, for this new Fifth Season could last for centuries and even millennia. At the end of the first installment, we were told that there might yet be a way to save civilization from being wiped out. One that involves something known as the moon and the floating obelisks.

The only gripe I had with the first volume was that Jemisin played her cards way too close to her chest. She introduced various fascinating concepts and ideas, but provided virtually no answers to any of the questions these raised in readers' minds. Thankfully, The Obelisk Gate offers a number of tantalizing answers that raise the stakes even more. Secrets about the obelisks, the Fulcrum, the stone eaters, the Guardians, orogenes, the moon, and a lot more are unveiled. All of which adds new dimensions to an already multilayered tale, which is really saying something. And yes, these answers beget yet more questions that will hopefully be answered in the final installment.

As a matter of course, Essun returns as a POV character. As her new community faces a threat that may destroy them, she must learn whatever Alabaster is trying to teach her before he dies. The second perspective is that of Nassun, her daughter. Leagues away to the south, she is being trained to become something she doesn't yet understand. Her father, Jija, made the long sojourn because he believes that this place can cure Nassun of her orogeny. The book also occasionally features Schaffa's point of view. There is a good balance between Essun and Nassun's perspectives and one doesn't take predecence over the other. I'm pleased to report that the supporting cast plays a more important role in The Obelisk Gate. Hoa, in particular, is revealed to be more than he/it appears to be. Steel, another stone eater, seems to be another character that will have a major role to play in what is to come.

Although The Obelisk Gate doesn't suffer from rhythm issues, like its predecessor it cannot be called a fast-paced novel. Having said that, it is definitely a page-turner that you'll get through in no time. As I mentioned, N. J. Jemisin truly elevated her game in this one and the revelations keep you begging for more. And the ending of both Essun and Nassun's plotlines pave the way for what should be one grand finale.

The Obelisk Gate is another demanding yet very rewarding read. Like in Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon, in the first volume the author dropped you off in a very complex world where litte made sense at the beginning. Just buckle up and enjoy the ride, for Jemisin takes you on an ambitious and emotional journey across uncharted waters. This sequel is another gripping read filled with engaging protagonists and an enthralling setting.

Impossible to put down.

The final verdict: 9/10

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