Thursday, August 31, 2017

Book Review: The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

N.K. Jemisin follows up her brilliant Hugo award-winning fantasy novel with another amazing Hugo award winning fantasy novel to add to the Broken Earth Trilogy. Essun steadily progresses with her magical powers as she recuperates in the underground comm Castrima. The ability to seismically alter the ground around her proves useful though she is not always in control of it. Her mentor Alabaster slowly deteriorates into stone and is eaten by a stone eater. The other viewpoint that Jemisin switches to is Essun's daughter Nassun, a girl who has just watched her father, Jija, kill her little brother when he realized the power inside of his child. He accuses Nassun of being a freak and she struggles to keep her ability under control as her abusive father continues to threaten her. They set out on the road as Jija looks for a cure. 

The Broken Earth series began as a road book with travel across the land known as the Stillness being central to the plot alongside the switching perspectives. The original book gave use the development of Essun from a child taken from her family to train to a young student under the tutelage of Alabaster to Essun's travels as a mourning and angry mother. I have always enjoyed Jemisin's description of how she came up with the idea from a dream she had of a woman walking with a mountain floating behind her. The companions that Essun picked up on the road have joined her in the underground comm. Hoa is wary of the other stone eaters but is protective of Essun so does not leave her side. Tonkee discovers the controls of the crystal geode much to the dismay of Castrima's leaders.

Jija and Nassun encounter dangers but they are not on the road for too long finally making it up to an area less affected by the destructive season. Jija is injured when they try to enter a comm where he believes Nassun will lose her orogene ability. In an interlude, Schaffa, who I didn't immediately recall from the first book, revives after being nearly destroyed in the first book He was a guardian of orogenes including Damaya, young Essun. He helps Jija and Nassun fight off marauders and takes them in. He is especially focused on Nassun and dismissive of Jija. Back in Castrima they have discovered a strange bug full of hot liquid that enjoys sucking on humans, especially scavengers. The threat of starvation is imminent though the leaders are not willing to share the information.

There is always a threat in this series, Jemisin never lets up on the danger and this makes the book an intense read. Schaffa takes Nassun under his wing and shows her what she can do with her power but it turns out to be deadly. Still, Nassun finds strength in her ability and Schaffa plans to exploit her. Jija tries to take her back, concerned that she is accelerating, not decelerating her ability, but Schaffa shuts her down and his anger is no longer something Nassun will put up with. Essun worries about the comm, especially when enemy comms crop up and then a massive displaced group pushes their army toward Castrima. Essun is forced to take charge as she learns more about the obelisks and their power. The ending is amazing and I had to sit up while reading it.

I am so excited to get The Stone Sky, which came out recently and finishes the series. There are so many surprises and the writing is so extraordinary, I find myself contemplating a sentence and having to go back and reread a page while I was thinking. Jemisin world is so complete and thoroughly built while the plot is still entertaining and shocking at times. I have no idea how this series will end but I'm not anticipating anything will be easy or totally happy. I do wish some peace for Essun as she is a wonderful character. I plan to check out more of Jemisin's writing since I've enjoyed several of her short stories and would like to read more of her novels. 

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