The world is ending. Essun has not found her daughter. And the person she has found wants her to do something utterly outside the realm of possibility. Her daughter, Nassun, struggles to survive not just in the Fifth Season that’s only just begun, but in the company of her father — who killed her baby brother. Mother and daughter are on paths that seem like they’ll never converge again — but the world has other plans for them both.
The Obelisk Gate is the second book in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, and it was one of my most anticipated books out this summer as well as one of my most anticipated books of 2016. The bar was set pretty high, and when I started reading it, I was a little worried that my expectations would result in disappointment.
Possibly the best part of The Obelisk Gate is N.K. Jemisin’s incredible voice, which is impressive from the very start of the first book in the series, The Fifth Season. As I mentioned in my previous review, the series depends on a second-person present point of view, which can definitely come off feeling strange at first. Jemisin manages to make that perspective not only bearable but pleasurable to read, and when the reason behind the second-person perspective is revealed, its purpose is illuminating.
It’s a struggle to review this book with exactly zero spoilers, but one of my favorite parts of The Obelisk Gate — aside from appropriate weaponization of insect infestations — was the use of two distinct perspectives in the storytelling: Essun and Nassun. While The Fifth Season featured three distinct perspectives, adding Nassun’s point of view added really important plot points and gave a better view of Essun as a character.
Nassun’s story was actually more interesting for me as a reader than Essun’s. While Essun’s story featured the aforementioned insect infestations — I do enjoy good insect-related horror — the story from Nassun’s point of view shows an entirely different facet of the world of the Broken Earth series. Nassun’s youth gives her a different perspective on orogeny, the magic system in the series, and being trained as an orogene by her mother Essun rather than by the oppressive Fulcrum makes her approach to orogeny very distinct from other orogenes shown so far in the series.
In fact, Nassun’s age and training background make her segments of the book very, very interesting indeed. While her lack of structured training allows her to think differently from other orogenes, her inexperience wit the world at large affects how she views the politics of interacting with the world around her, and the blend of the two traits creates a path forward that had me hanging off my chair by the actual edge as I could see (as both a reader and an adult) that Nassun was making some really, really immature decisions.
The Obelisk Gate is the sort of book I will actively put into people’s hands. The Fifth Season was one of my favorite science fiction reads of 2015, so much so that it’s the August 2016 book club selection, and The Obelisk Gate won’t fail to enthrall those who loved the first book in the series.
I’d recommend the Broken Earth series to both fantasy and science fiction readers who are interested in social messages and societal explorations, and I’ll reiterate that this series is a perfect fantasy series for science fiction lovers.
5 out of 5 stars
Feliza Casano is terrified that she’ll one day meet N.K. Jemisin and then abruptly find herself unable to form English words. She founded Girls in Capes in 2013 and currently edits and writes for all sections of the site. Keep up with her antics at felizacasano.com and follow her on Twitter @FelizaCasano.