The Obelisk Gate

This second book in N.K. Jeminsin’s Broken Earth trilogy picks up from the end of The Fifth Season. While it does suffer a bit from ‘Middle Book Syndrome’ (the need to get from the end book one to the start of book three), this does not detract from what is a powerful and effective story.

The season of endings grows darker as civilisation fades into the long cold night.

Essun has found shelter, but not her missing daughter. Instead there is Alabaster Tenring, destroyer of the world, with a request only Essun can grant.

As with the previous novel, there is a lot packed into the narrative and the author doesn’t expect to wait for you to catch up. As such, you need to pay attention while reading this. That attention is well rewarded, though, with some superb worldbuilding being both expands and deepens the reader’s understanding of the environment in which this novel takes place.

We also spend a lot more time with the additional characters, those that were mentioned or briefly encountered in the earlier book, and most of whom will clearly become a great deal more important in the next novel.

While this novel is not quite as outstanding as the first novel — and for narrative reasons it probably can’t be — it is an excellent story in its own right and one that sets things up for a superb, and possibly world shattering, trilogy.

The Fifth Season

N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season caused quite a stir when it was published, culminating with a Hugo award for best novel in 2016. Having finally gotten around to reading it, I can see why.

This is superb. It’s also quite difficult to talk about because the intricacies of the plot make it far too easy to accidentally give away plot spoilers, which is probably why the GoodReads synopsis is so vague:

This is the way the world ends…for the last time.

A season of endings has begun.

It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun.

It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.

It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.

This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.

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This felt like a very dense story to me. There is so much going on here, and it’s intricately constructed in such a way that you can never quite see what is coming next, until it happens at which point it feels inevitable. That said, I did have a genuine “Oh” moment when the various plot strands started coming together allowing the full picture to emerge.

The world building also deserves a mention for showing the sort of attention to detail that made Frank Herbert’s Dune so memorable for me. Everything fits and it’s all shown to us naturally as the characters progress through the world of the Stillness. There are no info-dumps here, and the strength of Jemisin’s writing is such that none are needed.

With The Fifth Season, N.K. Jeminsin has pulled together several familiar fantasy tropes (far future, dying Earth), added her own original vision and twisted it all together into something utterly unique.

Now I must rush out and get The Obelisk Gate.