Review: The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth #2) – N.K. Jemisin

the obelisk gateThe 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.

Rating: 4/5

Ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to report that there is no second-book syndrome here. The Obelisk Gate is just as rich and pacy as its predecessor – revealing more of the mysteries of the world building that were introduced in The Fifth Season.

Firstly, on an utterly shallow note, the covers for this series are incredible. This one in particular really caught my eye with its pleasing purple shades. Deceptively beautiful, considering the rather dire situations contained within.

As far as the plot is concerned, we pick up directly where the previous book left off – Essun and Alabaster have been reunited, with Alabaster on his way off this mortal coil. He has much knowledge to impart, although an understanding teacher he is not. However, it is only around halfway through the book that Essun finds out what, exactly, he intends for her to do.

You want me to catch the fucking moon?

Oh, I had to chuckle at Essun’s profanity-filled proclamation.

I was reminded, yet again, of the breathtaking scope of the originality and world building. It’s utterly refreshing to have a fantasy setting that isn’t a poor imitation of medieval Europe. Most of the people populating the novel are varying shades of brown. Women aren’t oppressed, at least not because of their gender. In fact, most of the characters are women who are adept and powerful in their own rights, whether they are leaders, physically strong, magically talented or mechanically skilled – to name but a few examples.

I also found this instalment much easier to follow, in terms of perspectives. We follow Essun as she adjusts to life in her newfound community, with increasing responsibilities to prevent civil war, save her own skin, and master her powers over the floating obelisks in the sky. The second perspective is that of Essun’s daughter, Nassun, detailing her flight from her home with her father and the events that follow. Finally, we have short interjections from a third, mysterious narrator, whose identity you can figure out as the book progresses.

But if you stay, no part of this comm gets to decide that any part of this comm is expendable. No voting on who gets to be people.

One thing that has stood our for me throughout this series is the dark, wry humour. The kind that comes from situations that seem so hopeless that if you don’t temper it with sarcasm you’ll end up crying instead.

You’re the one who has to explain to Tonkee that Hjarka’s decided, through whatever convoluted set of values the big woman holds dear, than an ex-commless geomest with the social skills of a rock represents the pinnacle of desirability.

Finally, I was really drawn to the depiction of platonic relationships that form the heart of the novel – mainly between Essun and Alabaster, but between Essun and the other supporting characters as well. The somewhat begrudging relationships that turn into real care and concern, sometimes despite Essun’s intentions – understandable, considering the staggering losses she has faced in her past. The role she takes on to protect the people of her community, despite how they may treat her, and her attempts to preserve life, despite her abilities to wipe out everyone surrounding her.

Creative, powerful, entertaining and at times philosophical, The Obelisk Gate is a fantastic continuation of this effortlessly blended-genre series.

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