Title: The Obelisk Gate
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Published by: Orbit
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Where I got the book: Broke down and bought my own copy
This review was originally written for the Charlatan. An edited version was published on August 25, 2016, Volume 46, Issue 4.
After the world has ended, how will people manage to survive the natural disaster that follows and who will be blamed. The Obelisk Gate is the long awaited sequel to The Fifth Season, which recently won the 2016 Hugo Award for Best Novel.
Sanzed has been destroyed, the capital of Yumenes now a crater of molten slag from a catastrophic event that caused the worst fifth season the world has ever seen. Cities and towns were levelled from the quakes that followed, forcing survivors on the road in an attempt to find safety. Things change in a fifth season though and you cannot rely on previous knowledge to save you. As the air continues to fill with ash and sulfur bugs mutate, species go extinct, ecosystems are disrupted as predators die off, creating new enemies and killing off possible food sources. Under these circumstances Essun finds herself joining an underground community of orogenes and stills, people without orogene skills. Under the teachings of Alabaster, her formed teacher and lover, Essun must learn to master her orogene powers in order to rectify an old mistake by a previous dead civ and stop the fifth season.
The narrative is divided into multiple perspectives, Essun, her daughter Nassun and Schaffa, Essun’s formed guardian from another life. Perspectives largely remain in the present, following Essun in her new community, Nassun as she comes into her orogene powers on the road, and Schaffa as the head of an orogene school on the west coast. The multiple perspectives allow Jemisin to fully flesh out each character and build upon their relationships with each other. No one is stereotyped and each person has a different understanding of and creation to the fifth season that shapes their actions. Essun, having lost her daughter’s trail, is trying to navigate between her past and her new community. Feeling unloved by both her parents Nassun is growing into her powers and forms a strong bond with Schaffa, wishing that he was her father. Schaffa, lacking parts of his memories, conflates Nassun with Essun from when she was a child.
One of the things that makes The Broken Earth Trilogy unique is how Jemisin creates an apocalyptic setting that is caused by magic and natural disasters, rather than futuristic technology. Rather, one of the main reasons why the Stillness suffers from constant catastrophic natural disasters is because the planet does have a moon. Through human greed and expansion a previous civilization that no one can remember accidentally knocked the moon out of orbit, causing a traumatic effect to the earth’s tectonic plates that resulted in large scale natural disasters for as long as history can remember. This is a refreshing and unique idea and take on apocalyptic narratives that challenges common fantasy and science fiction worldbuilding tropes. Many books have been written about planets with more than one moon, but Jemisin goes further than that and questions what would happen to a planet that lost its moon. And with little guidance, Alabaster expects Essun to catch the moon with her orogene powers and return it to orbit.
The Obelisk Gate is a well written sequel and second book in The Broken Earth Trilogy. This series is an excellent read for anyone looking for new and innovating speculative fiction and fantasy.