Title: The Obelisk Gate
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Publication Date: August 18 2016
Hardcover: 448 Pages
THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS… FOR THE LAST TIME.
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.
Stand alone or series: Book 2 in the Broken Earth series
How did I get this book: Review Copy from the Publisher
Format (e- or p-): Paperback
Warning: If you haven’t read The Fifth Season yet, maybe avoid this post.
It’s hard to know where to begin with this review. One of my most anticipated reads of 2016, the follow-up to one of my top books of 2015, this book – this book – is not quite like its predecessor. The Obelisk Gate does its own thing, it feels different, it reads different but ultimately doesn’t diverge too much from the core of the series: the people.
The last time we saw these characters and this world, everything was broken: Alabaster had broken the world and brought a new Season of apocalypse (perhaps the last one) and Essun’s family was destroyed from the inside by a scared, hateful father. When Essun and a soon-to-be-dead Alabaster finally met at the end of The Fifth Season there was little hope that she would ever find her daughter again – but she finds a new purpose, a new mission given by her old master and lover: to learn how to touch and use the mysterious Obelisks so that the world can be saved (maybe?).
Just like The Fifth Season, the narrative here is split but this time it alternates between second-person Essun and third-person Nassun. Learning more about Nassun and her own perspective about her life (and about her mother) presents an interesting shift to the narrative. She is whom Essum would have been, I believe, without Alabaster’s influence. She is also powerful, and I was never so aware about how immense power can be immensely corrupted depending on who you are, who you align with, who you listen to. There is this strong, powerful element in this novel about shifting alliances that is potentially bad news to the Stillness and the world-at-large. The real enemy, the real villains remain to be disclosed: it’s hard to judge right now, because everybody’s perspective is so biased, so veiled behind half-truths and misguided hesitations.
Although some mysteries are unveiled in The Obelisk Gate, a lot remains a question mark. We do know one thing: that the second person narrative is not done by an omniscient impersonal, removed narrator. Just like I had surmised, that narrator is omnisciently present, personal: it’s Hoa, the stone-eater whose purpose, power and intentions are as muddled as they are complex.
In many ways The Obelisk Gate is a more intimate book than The Fifth Season, but that sense of intimacy is fooling us because what it really does is to hide its monumental shifts under a guise of stillness. In that first book, we followed characters through time and space, around that world. It was a big book but also an introductory book about that world, its oppressive environment and its oppressive politics. The Obelisk Gate finds both Essun and Nassun staying still, in one place, dealing with the same group of people. That stillness is the foundation for change and knowledge, both for Essun and for Nassun. For Essun, The Obelisk Gate feels very much like a book about changing perspectives: about identity, about self, about different ways of naming and using orogeny and relating to people. For Nassun, it feels like a book about manipulation: of others, of self, of magic. And this book feels more earth-shattering exactly because of that.
And that ending. THAT ENDING.
One thing is for certain: there is no safety in stillness either. Not for orogenes. Not for anybody.
Not until the broken earth is fixed (maybe).
Rating: 9 – Damn near perfection.
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