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Book Review – The Obelisk Gate

The Obelisk Gate is the second book in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series and won the Hugo award for Best Novel in 2017. You can find my review of the first book, The Fifth Season, here.


The story in this second volume follows two main point-of-view characters, Essun, who we know from the first book, and Nassun, her daughter, who we have only seen through Essun’s memories up until now.

The prose is written in the same unusual style as the earlier book, with sections of second person point-of-view told by an unknown narrator in staggered interlude chapters. (That narrator is revealed toward the end.)

The world-building continues to shine in this book. The geologically active continent has been broken, and a volcanic winter (what the people call the Fifth Season) is imminent. Certain people with the skill to use orogeny can pull the energy of the earth’s heat out to power magical feats. Additional aspects of magic are developed in this second volume, and I did get a little confused about which energy did what and how.

Essun has settled in at Castrima, where her ex-lover and mentor, Alabaster, tries to teach her to harness the power of the obelisks. His time is limited as he slowly turns to stone in the aftermath of breaking the world. As he petrifies, he is devoured by his companion stone eater. Essun’s own stone eater ally, Hoa, continues to protect her, but no one knows why the stone eaters have made their specific alliances or what their endgame may be.

The timeline for Nassun reverts to the first book’s events and begins immediately after her father, Jija, murders her brother for being an orogene. In The Fifth Season, I had wondered why Jija had not gone on to kill Nassun, knowing that she must also be an orogene.

The other main character in the book is Schaffa, Essun’s Fulcrum Guardian. He had been left for dead in the aftermath of the Guardians’ attack at the end of the first book. Schaffa succumbs to a deep and evil power to save himself and emerges with memory loss and a deadly ignorance of his own abilities.

This book was about relationships between individuals as well as classes and races. Much of the plot deals with how Essun and Alabaster learn to work together again, while Nassun deals with the dying relationship with her father as Schaffa replaces him in that role.

The setting of Castrima, an underground geode where orogenes live amongst non-orogene humans, provides a backdrop for conflict between the two peoples. Castrima’s life-preserving mechanisms will not work without an orogene present, but tensions rise and old prejudices drive people to violence.

Essun must control her own power as she becomes a target in this power struggle. She has to learn from Alabaster in a desperate attempt to save all the people and end the seasons forever.

I enjoyed this story a lot, but found the first book to be better. The action in this middle book felt like it stagnated a bit, but it was still fascinating to read about the world that Jemisin has imagined. I’m looking forward to the third book, The Stone Sky.

Find more of my reviews here.

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