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The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth) Paperback – August 16, 2016
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"Beyond the meticulous pacing, the thorough character work, and the staggering ambition and revelations of the narration, Jemisin is telling a story of our present, our failures, our actions in the face of repeated trauma, our responses to the heat and pressure of our times. Her accomplishment in this series is tremendous. It pole-vaults over the expectations I had for what epic fantasy should be and stands in magnificent testimony to what it could be."―NPR on The Obelisk Gate
"Jemisin builds off of the strong foundation laid in The Fifth Season ... an interesting new series."
―Booklist on The Obelisk Gate
"Exceptional."―Library Journal (starred review) on The Obelisk Gate
"Stunning, again."―Kirkus (starred review) on The Obelisk Gate
"[How] can something as large and complex as this story exist in her head, and how does she manage to tell it to me so beautifully? I can't stand how much I love The Broken Earth trilogy so far.... Absolutely dazzling."―B&N Reviews on The Obelisk Gate
"Stunning.... Jemisin's most accomplished series yet."―RT Book Reviews on The Obelisk Gate
"Jemisin is a tremendously talented writer on every level and she's at the top of her game here. I love books that beat me up and take my lunch money, and this one left me bruised, breathless, and desperate for the final volume."―Rose Fox, senior reviews editor Publishers Weekly, (PW Staff Picks: The Best Books We Read in 2016) on The Obelisk Gate
"Brilliant characters, vivid world, and pacing . . . .The Obelisk Gate is an incredibly ambitious and important novel."―The Verge on The Obelisk Gate
"Intricate and extraordinary."―New York Times on The Fifth Season
"[The Fifth Season is] an ambitious book, with a shifting point of view, and a protagonist whose full complexity doesn't become apparent till toward the end ... Jemisin's work itself is part of a slow but definite change in sci-fi and fantasy."―Guardian on The Fifth Season
About the Author
N. K. Jemisin is a Brooklyn author who won the Hugo Award for Best Novel for both The Obelisk Gate and The Fifth Season, which was also a New York Times Notable Book of 2015. She previously won the Locus Award for her first novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and her short fiction and novels have been nominated multiple times for Hugo, World Fantasy, Nebula, and RT Reviewers' Choice awards, and shortlisted for the Crawford and the James Tiptree, Jr. awards. She is a science fiction and fantasy reviewer for the New York Times, and you can find her online at nkjemisin.com..
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I'm sure that summary will confuse people who haven't read this series yet. But it's difficult to say more without revealing too much of The Obelisk Gate's incredible world-building and the story itself. We learn much more about the Stillness, especially the obelisks and the stone eaters. Questions that were posed during TFS are answered, and more mysteries arise. There were also moments when I ached for Essun, Nassun, Alabaster, and Essun's stone-eater friend Hoa. (That Hoa scene in particular nearly made me cry.) All the emotional investment and immersion made The Obelisk Gate impossible to put down - and when I was forced to put it down, I couldn't stop thinking about it.
Normally I'd use this space for criticisms... But I have none. Sure, The Obelisk Gate is intricate in its plotting and unorthodox in structure (e.g., Jemisin still uses second-person narration for Essun's chapters). But after reading TFS and other novels by Jemisin over the past year, I've learned she has reasons for her unconventional choices - and those reasons always reveal themselves in time. So I sat back, absorbed each chapter's events and the characters' choices, and let my speculations percolate. And based on The Obelisk Gate's climax... Oh my word. The Broken Earth is shaping up to be an outstanding trilogy, and I'm so nervous-yet-scared-to-death for its finale next year. Fantasy readers who haven't started this series need to get on it - but make sure you start with The Fifth Season, because The Obelisk Gate won't make sense otherwise.
The Obelisk Gate further develops the world we began to see int he first book. We learn more about the Fulcrum, the Guardians, the obelisks--and even more importantly--about the lives and motivations of characters we have come to love/hate/fear. Essun, as a woman in her mid forties is not your average protagonist. But she is someone who feels a million times more human and relatable than the cardboard cut out perfect princesses of urban fantasy. She is both powerful and humble, kind and cruel, she makes mistakes and has victories. She is in short, a person. And you can feel her blood, sweat and fears throughout the novel.
We finally get to meet Nassun, and understand what is like to be the daughter of such a strong and damaged woman like Essun. We learn more about Hoa. And the dark adversary that Alabaster fights is finally revealed.
This is not a novel that suffers from Second Book Syndrome. So much happens and yet nothing feels rushed. Another brilliant entry into an epic and unforgettable series.
What the hell am I supposed to do with myself until the next book is released?
Take the magic. A looked-down on (rather than the fantasy-trope of revered) class of gifted people can control the forces of the earth, drawing up heat and causing earthquakes in a setting already known for cataclysmic earthquakes every few thousand years. In The Obelisk Gate, Jemisin takes that magic deeper (boldly naming it ‘magic,’ a word fantasy authors have shied away from lately), and adds another layer onto it, building to some epic moments later in the book.
Take the characters. Jemisin’s background as a psychotherapist shines here. I don’t think I’ve read deeper, more complex, more real and loveable-while-hateable-or-vice-versa characters anywhere in fantasy. They are truly top-notch, and in The Obelisk Gate she pushes her characters deeper in quasi-redeeming the villains of the first book, while making her twin protagonists do some pretty terrible things in the name of what they believe in—and they are all written with such attention to the finer points of the human spirit that you walk away feeling more like you’ve read Dostoevsky than Heinlein.
Okay, not to sing only praises: this feels like a middle book. Which is to say, the plot is as much a recovery from book one and a build to book three as it is a story unto itself. Not to say it isn’t wonderful and engrossing, but it is those things kind of like The Two Towers is: wonderful and engrossing with a stress on middles rather than the tight beginning-middle-end we love from well-told tales.
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People say N.K. Jemisin is on the literary end of speculative fiction, but despite unabashedly using second-person for much of the tale, it never comes off as experimentally opaque or different for the sake of being different. The story sucks you in, the plot moves, the magic’s cool—it really just feels like she added a literary depth of character and experimentation with prose to all the things we fantasy readers love about our genre. Not many authors can do that, but Jemisin nails it. At 120,000 words it’s a decent-length book, but I’m not sure it took me two nights to finish (though they were late nights).
Enough praises. This is well worth a read, for pretty much anyone except a Sad Puppy—and it would probably do them some good too. No wonder it’s nominated for a Nebula Award this year. I usually end with some kind of “for fans of this,” or “if you like that” kind of reading recommendation, but no need in this case. Read it.