13 June 2017

Hugos 2017: The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin

Trade paperback, 410 pages
Published 2016

Acquired and read May 2017
The Broken Earth, Book Two: The Obelisk Gate
by N. K. Jemisin

While the first book of The Broken Earth trilogy, The Fifth Season, followed three parallel stories that turned out to be linked, The Obelisk Gate follows two. At first it seems like there's going to be three, but the third narrative only has two chapters. One plotline follows the protagonist of the first volume, Essun, while the other shows us what her daughter, Nassun, has been doing during the events of both The Fifth Season and this book. (The stories move at different rates, but each ends at the same time, I think.) Just as the multiple narratives of The Fifth Season recontextualized each other, Nassun's story provides extra detail on Essun as a mother, deepening her character in ways not exactly sympathetic, but always comprehensible.

I enjoyed this both more and less than The Fifth Season. The Fifth Season was marginally unsatisfying because its main narrative didn't really come to any kind of climax, it felt like it just stopped. The Obelisk Gate definitely has a climax, that delivers on the levels of emotion, plot, character, and backstory-- it's very satisfying. On the other hand, up until that climax, Essun's plotline felt very aimless, as she slowly integrated into her newly adopted comm, but didn't seem to have much of a driving motivation, and her old mentor very slowly doled out exposition. The climax, though, made a lot of this work for me retrospectively. I did very much enjoy Nassun's plotline, though, even if it was clearly subordinate to Essun's (the three plots in The Fifth Season felt more evenly balanced).

Still, on the whole this is an enjoyable read. Jemisin writes great prose, depicts nuanced characters, deals with complicated issues of power and violence, and continues to expand an interesting world. I'm glad Hugo voting led me to The Broken Earth, and I look forward to reading The Stone Sky later this year to see how it all comes to an end.

Next Week: Thoughts from Ursula K. Le Guin on matters of writing and life in Words Are My Matter!

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