The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin. ★★★★
The Obelisk Gate directly continues where The Fifth Season left off and must be read in order. If you haven’t read The Fifth Season, go read it. Now. Seriously, it’s one of the best fantasy books I’ve ever read.
When I say The Obelisk Gate directly continues The Fifth Season, I mean it starts in the very same scene where the last book ended, with Alabaster declaring that they had to get a moon. I ended up wishing that I’d reread The Fifth Season directly before hand, since I’d forgotten a lot of details and spent a while confused. I feel like I would have gotten a lot more out of The Obelisk Gate if I’d read it directly after The Fifth Season. As is, I plan on rereading the series at some point after its completion so I can more fully parse the various complexities.
In addition to Essun, The Fifth Season tells the stories of two other characters, the first being Essun’s missing daughter Nassun. And wow, do I feel for that girl. She’s eleven years old and comes home to her father standing over her brother’s body and has to convince him not to murder her too. All while the world is ending.
The other POV character is Schaffa, the guardian from earlier in Essun’s life. His sections go back a bit in time to tell what he’s been doing the last ten years. I wasn’t predisposed to like him, and I still don’t think I do. Then again, “like” is a hard word to apply to any of the characters in this series. They’re all people who’ve been warped by their situations, made into monsters by their willingness to survive. Yet they never reach the point where I’m repulsed by them or don’t want to keep reading about them. Instead Essun and Nassun manage to be some of the most compelling antiheroines I’ve ever seen in SFF literature. Nyx still holds my top spot, but they may be battling it out for number two.
The Obelisk Gate is starting to blur the boundaries between fantasy and science fiction, which I’m all for. Mixing genres is often what produces the most creative results. I’m not going to say much more on this element, but I hope you read it and discover for yourself.
Back in January I wrote a post on epic fantasy, where I specifically said that I didn’t see The Fifth Season as falling within the genre, since it was more about Essun as she wandered through the chaos of an ending world than a story set on a larger scale. The Obelisk Gate changes matters. It starts to provide more pieces of the puzzle, creating a story and plot that encompass the whole planet over the course of thousands of years. And if Essun may very well change the course of history.
For whatever reason, The Obelisk Gate didn’t have the same visceral impact on me that The Fifth Season did. Perhaps it’s because I already knew what to expect? Or maybe it’s because The Obelisk Gate is a middle book of a trilogy, which tends to be the weakest point in many series. This isn’t to deride The Obelisk Gate – it’s still a very good book. It’s just hard to compare to something as amazing as The Fifth Season.
To reiterate, The Broken Earth series is shaping up to be one of the best and most game changing fantasy series I’ve ever encountered. I highly recommend it.