*This is a review for the second book in the Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. To read my review of the first book, The Fifth Season, click here.
The Obelisk Gate continues the story of Essun, a powerful orogene and mother who is looking for her abducted daughter in the middle of a Season (an apocalyptic event). This book picks up right where The Fifth Season left off, which was great for me since I didn’t have wait and was able to go from one right into the next. In addition to furthering the plot, the sequel to The Fifth Season continues to build on the themes of the first book and evolves in its narrative choices.
This book is told largely through Essun and her daughter Nassun, though in the beginning we do get a few chapters from the perspective of Schaffa, Essun’s former Guardian. We also get the narrator as a fourth perspective, which was present and clear as a character in The Fifth Season - especially in the Essun chapters where the second-person is used - but which is set apart even more in this book. Now, I won’t spoil who the narrator is revealed to be, but the reveal did feel similar to the final closing of the time threads in the last book, though not as satisfying - mainly because time wasn’t involved and I have a type.
Whereas The Fifth Season was much more about Essun and her learning who she is and how she came to be that way, The Obelisk Gate is more about the bond between mother and daughter, a difficult feat considering they never actually share a scene that isn’t a flashback in the entire book. However, it is very clear how Essun and Nassun’s relationship with each other shape their goals and help us to see how they were even before Essun’s husband Jija took Nassun away. Through Nassun’s point of view we not only see a young, impressionable but smart girl who wants to be loved, but we also learn how tainted Essun had become by the Fulcrum. We see Nassun’s resentment of her mother, who is the protagonist, who essentially parented her as if she were a grit learning her orogeny in the place that Essun herself hated. Seeing how Essun treated Nassun is a great demonstration of the cycle of abuse, and how people who know they were abused and have tried to work through it can still continue that cycle. Ironically, it is the person who initially abused Essun as a child who takes Nassun in and treats her with care - though I still don’t trust it.
Overall, this story is about family and relationships. It’s told through Essun integrating into and protecting Castrima, her relationship with Alabaster, her connection with the stone eater Hoa, and her drive to continue searching for her daughter. It’s told through Nassun’s damaged relationship with her father, her memory and resentment towards her mother, and her connection with Schaffa. Even with all of the huge, world-changing things happening, the characters are very much human, which is perhaps exacerbated by the Season.
In addition to these human-to-human connections, we get both Essun and Nassun dealing with magic or “the silver,” essentially learning about new forms of orogeny that were foreboden in the Fulcrum but which they are able to develop with its absence. While Essun is being taught about it and its connection to the obelisks by Alabaster, Nassun sort of falls into it. Perhaps it’s because she’s a child, or because she’s never been taught in the Fulcrum, but she is more drawn to that kind of orogeny than the standard earth fare that the rest of the orogenes deal with. That, and the fact that she is the daughter of Essun, makes her an extremely strong orogene, even at her young age.
The Obelisk Gate has amazing writing that continues the themes of The Fifth Season in addition to the plot in a seamless way. I’m so excited for book 3 of the series and am so sad I have to wait for it.
Up next on Bayana’s Book Corner: Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson