Book Review: The Obelisk Gate

5/5 Stars – Great character development, snarky dialog and epiphanies for both the reader and the character make The Obelisk Gate a sequel that exceeds the original and left me excited to read more.

When I finished The Fifth SeasonI wasn’t convinced I wanted to tackle the next book in the series. The first book kept me interested, but it also kept me confused and wondering WTF was going on for the first half of the book. Even after I finally wrapped my head around it, I was still a little unsure. But something kept tugging at me, and I was just curious to keep reading. You know, just in case something really cool happened.

The Obelisk Gate, the second book in the Broken Earth trilogy recovered and blew away my expectations. Where the first kept me in the dark about what was going on, the sequence of events, who was doing what why – Jemisin refines that style of story telling to keep the same feeling of the first book, while removing some of the esoteric story-telling techniques that I found so frustrating the first time around. The result was a delight to read, and I found myself consistently wanting to read “just a few more pages.”

The Obelisk Gate still follows the journey of Essun and her life as an orogene, a geology sorcerer, in a new community during the end of the world. We get additional perspectives and insights into characters that we didn’t have in the first book that really expands the scope of the story. These additional characters fill in the gaps, expand upon what we experienced in the first book, and bring in a whole new perspective to the overall plot.

As with The Fifth Season, Jemisin writes from a place that we don’t often find in fantasy–from the controlled, the ‘lesser’, discriminated against mentality. There’s a struggle as she writes that is visceral that you won’t find anywhere else. Orogenes are less than human, and used much like slaves by a central institution that believes itself to be a master of it’s own destiny, but is just as much as a slave as the orogenes they allege to control. Orogenes are killed-on-site or thrown out of communities (much the same as a death sentence at the end of the world, it turns out). There’s almost a genetic hatred of the orogene that defies reason and logic by the “stills”, or those without orogenic powers.

Fantasy authors often come from a place of respect even when representing the discriminated against hero, like Essun. But you won’t find that here–here you’ll find institutional discrimination in a way that educates and is uncomfortable to read about, that shows the hopelessness of the discriminated against and the utter unfairness of it all. Jemisin does this without being preachy or lecturing and the result is a story that’s can be as sobering as it is entertaining.

Every description, every scene in The Obelisk Gate feels significant and important in the story without feeling overwhelming. The plot moves at a satisfying pace, which is an improvement over the first book–I thought stumbled a bit here and there with pacing. The detail that she uses to create her world is stunning at times. I constantly find myself impressed at the how much she’s clearly thought through how people in this world act, the problems they face, how they approach those problems. The whole thing feels wonderfully (and depressingly) believable.

Despite my ever-growing backlog of books I can’t wait to read, I invested enough after finishing The Obelisk Gate to dive straight into the next book. The setup for the the finale in The Stone Sky is enough that I decided I just couldn’t wait.

The Obelisk Gate is a worthy successor to The Fifth Season and fixes many of the nitpicks I had with the first novel. Great world building, dynamic characters and an off-the-beaten-path magic system make this a great read.

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