The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin
Orbit, 2016; 448 pp
Reviewed by Elise Matthews
N. K. Jemisin's The Obelisk Gate is one of those beautiful books that you won't be able to put down. It'll keep you up until 3 in the morning every night until you finish it. And weeks later, after you've moved on to other books, you'll find it still taking up mental space, keeping you hungry for the final installment in The Broken Earth trilogy.
This is true of just about any Jemisin book, really. She writes high fantasy that isn't stale with the tropes I see repeated in so many series. Jemisin's work keeps blowing my mind. And I'm not the only one feeling this because in 2016, Jemisin became the first Black writer to win the Best Novel Hugo award for The Fifth Season (Broken Earth #1). These are characters and perspectives and voices I really needed floating around in my head, especially with everything going on in the world. Jemisin writes about inequality and prejudice in a way that is easy to digest while remaining powerful.
Essun, the main character of the series, pops up into my head in the middle of the day, and I wonder how she's faring between books. I worry about her. I miss her. Where The Fifth Season sets up a complicated premise and a establishes rich, in the end, a solid foundation of this world, The Obelisk Gate shoots into the sky, quite literally. Essun's understanding of orogeny, the magic of her world, has always been tied to the Earth, her power drawn from deep within it. But in The Obelisk Gate, she finds she never fully understood orogeny before because there's exponentially more power in the sky if she can only learn how to harness the obelisks. She's not the only one learning this either. We finally get to meet Nassun, Essun's kidnaped daughter, in this book, and her orogeny is a force to be reckoned with. Her chapters add so much depth to Essun's story.
Gushing aside, this is a tough series to get into. It's important and beautiful and absolutely worth it. But it took me a few chapters of The Fifth Season to really get a feel for what was going on because of shifts in point of view and time that make for a disorienting entrance into the story. These narrative choices make sense later, but it takes some patience to get there. It's absolutely worth hanging with it because Essun's story will break your heart and fill you with rage, all while kindling hope that the world won't end—despite the series beginning with "Let's start with the end of the world, why don't we?"