Fantasy Review: ‘The Obelisk Gate’ by N.K. Jemisin

obelisk-gateLet’s look at some of the things I said about The Fifth Season.

“This one may have broke me.”

“Along with its ability to shred my emotions.”

“One of the most emotional reads I have had in a long time.”

I think there is a pattern here. The Fifth Season was a five star read that played on readers emotions. Looking back it is important that that is the case. Not a lot happened in reality, a couple characters traveled and met with each other and the groundwork for a world wide mystery was laid. But if a reader was looking for any sort of answers, or a fast paced plot, or all kinds of action they were not going to get it. Emotional gut punches and strong characters, yes. Answers? Oh no.

The Obelisk Gate finally starts to provide those answers. The great mystery of what Stone Eaters (people made entirely of stone), Guardians (magical police), and even Oregens (those who can use magic) are in this world with its geology based magic is slowly filled in. The world’s broken folklore starts to mesh with a more scientific understanding of what has gone wrong in this broken world; Father Earth lost the moon and has punished humanity ever since. Why this happened, and more importantly what kind of end game may bring back some sort of harmony, begins to make it self known.

This second installment continues to follow Essun, now firmly in one timeline though annoyingly narrated in second person for reasons I can’t quite fathom. Her story is one of world wide importance though her former lover now mentor Alabaster refuses to share the information she needs in any timley fashion. A new character is added with a more traditional third person point of view; Essun’s daughter Nassun who is proving to be a powerful Oregen herself. Alternating between these two (and occasionally one more) The Obelisk Gate starts to really look at the nitty gritty of what can be done in this world rather than react to what is happening.

As a plot driver this is all great. Going into book three I have a strong foundation in this world and the cultures that have developed around its chaos. It is very safe to say that the conclusion of this series could be epic indeed; planet shaking goodness and the possibility of some high stakes personal confrontations between people with the power to make something happen.

But as a stand alone book within a series there is something missing; movement of almost any kind sans a fairly epic confrontation as the story wanes. Essun is firmly planted in one village learning her powers from Alabaster. Important to the story but not the most captivating story. Nassun quickly learns to be wise beyond her years but doesn’t have much growth once she starts to realize her power; getting more powerful but no wiser. Alternating between their stories breaks up some of the monotony but three forths of the book feels like a clever info dump more than a story.

Perhaps the first book did this and I didn’t realize it but The Fifth Season had no problem giving out emotional gut punches. Nassun’s early story had a bit of this but Essun’s story seems to have given everything it could already; all that is left is the cold hard facts of what her future holds.

The Obelisk Gate is not a bad book but it is a let down from The Fifth Season. As a bridge it may turn out to be just what the series needs; certainly it left me hungry enough to already be wanting the conclusion. But on its own it just doesn’t hold up to its predecessor’s lofty expectations.

3 Stars

Copy for review provided by publisher.

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10 thoughts on “Fantasy Review: ‘The Obelisk Gate’ by N.K. Jemisin

  1. I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the first book either, but I think I still liked it slightly more than you. It really did feel like a “bridge” book. I don’t mind a middle book slump so much even if they are somewhat disappointing, but a lot is pretty much is riding on the next one now.

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    • I trust it to work out in the end. I really do. But middle books are often made or broken by the one that follows them; and since I can’t just jump into the next book here I am.

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  2. Yet another series I need to find time for. I had the best of intentions when The Fifth Season came out, but just haven’t made time for it.

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  3. Yes, I’m with Bob – another series I have to catch up with – and I also had really good intentions when it first came out – the best laid plans, etc, etc.
    Lynn 😀

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  4. The Fifth Season was the sort of book I loved but left me with limited desire to pick up the next volume. But the world building sounds promising! Not happy about the second person narration, though. That was one experimental bit from the first book that just didn’t work.

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