Thursday, December 08, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

The Obelisk Gate is the sequel to the Hugo award-winning The Fifth Season, which overall I found difficult but after forcing myself to finish, I admired for its complexity, diversity and cleverness

Sadly, The Obelisk Gate still has the complexity (or a better term might by lexical density) of its predecessor but both the diversity of characters and cleverness of execution appears to be diminished in  this sequel to The Fifth Season. However, both books do share the ineffable quality of a good read: compulsion of the reader to want to find out what happens next.

One of the main problems I think the books have is that they are set in a world that Jemisin calls "The Broken Earth" where basically calamity is commonplace and even expected. Disasters happen, on the regular. These apocalyptic events are called seasons in Jemisin's creation. (I'm still not exactly sure what a "FIFTH season" is because there appear to be a lot more than four seasons described in the must-read appendix.) 

Instead of the story being told from three perspectives and time lines that eventually are weaved together (like in The Fifth Season), in The Obelisk Gate we primarily follow two distinct tales, one about what happens to Essun and the other about what happens to Nassun, her daughter. The first book was nominally about tracing Essun's journey as she searches for Nassun. The second book reveals what happened when Nassun fled with her murderous father Jija to a place he thought could/would/should cure his daughter so that he wouldn't murder her (for being a despicable orogene like her mother). 

Jemisin does an excellent job of depicting the ambivalence of contradictory feelings between Jija and Nassun, who both hate and love each other. It's not really too much of a surprise to discover that by the end of The Obelisk Gate  only one of them survives. (And it's not that much of a surprise to discover which one it is.) Jemisin also shows contradictory emotions in the relationship between Scaffa, who is a guardian (someone who hunts/controls/kills orogenes) and Nassun, who is an orogene (someone who can redirect the kinetic, thermal, potential energy of the world).

Orogenes are despised and feared in the society the Broken Earth trilogy is set in but also are very powerful and useful to have around when the world is falling apart. Essun, who is a very, very powerful orogene, gets a first-hand look at how a society can simultaneously desire and despise an entire class of people (orogenes) as she hunkers down in Castrima, an amazing underground cavern where she is relatively safe from the desolation and havoc occurring on land.

This all sounds interesting, and it is (in theory), but I wanted more story in The Obelisk Gate. There's not a lot that actually happens, to either Nassun or Essun, and because they are physically located only two locales for most of the book there is much less world-building in this book than there was in the first. (This is not too surprising since it is the middle book of a trilogy after all.) 

Happily, this time I did not have as much trouble finishing the book (there was never a time I thought "I really don't want to read this anymore") but there are passages of Jemisin's writing that still make my eyes itch. I am pretty sure that I will read the third book, mostly for completeness and out of a dutiful sense of finishing what you start (and yes, that curiosity of wanting to find out what happens next).

Overall, The Obelisk Gate is a worthy sequel to the award-winning The Fifth Season as it continues the story of what happens to Essun as her world falls apart after a personal and actual cataclysmic event.

Title: The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth, #2)
N.K. Jemisin.
Paperback: 448 pages.
Date Published: August 18, 2016.
Date Read: November 16, 2016.


OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

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