Thoughts: The Obelisk Gate, by N. K. Jemisin

It just gets better and better, there’s no other way to say it.

There’s only one other trilogy that’s started out good and got better and better that sticks out in my mind, and that’s Cixin Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past. I’m delighted to tentatively add another.

Spoilers are going to necessarily abound, because it’s the second book in a trilogy, but I’ll try not to spoiler if I don’t have to.

The apocalypse is progressing, we’re settled in place for now and gathering strength, making plans… but just as we get comfortable, the scope widens and everything gets more complicated. We find out what was going on with some old frenemies, and get a look at other parts of the world, but the biggest hammer blow is undoubtedly the introduction of Essun’s daughter Nassun as a viewpoint character. Nassun’s abduction by her father is the catalyst for Essun’s journey (or at least the focus of it), and you might think you have a decent idea of what happened, but even this second person narrative is fundamentally one-sided.

The way Jemisin fills on background is just wonderful; she doesn’t rewrite it, or rely on differing interpretations of an event from different points of view, she just deepens it. Things just become more complicated. The picture just gets bigger. Like, we thought we were just a good loving mother who had escaped an abusive, traumatic past and made a new life for ourselves, but what does that look like from our nine-year-old daughter’s point of view?

The Fifth Season was a stark portrayal of a society running on oppression – a society in which oppression is a fundamental part. It goes into how that oppression looks, how it feels, how people escape it or fail to, how it is perpetuated and how it perpetuates itself. We see how the manipulation of information and controlled education of a populace maintains the status quo.

In The Obelisk Gate, we explore the generational trauma of oppression through Nassun’s point of view, and thus our first view of Essun’s parenting post-Fulcrum and post-Meov. What it sort of made me think of was the ending of The Hunger Games trilogy, where we get the epilogue of Katniss living out of the shadow of the Capitol and District system for the first time, and the brief look at her intentions for raising her own children – it seemed a little neat (yes, yes, it’s a YA, whatever). The Obelisk Gate shows us what it might look like. Essun needs to teach Nassun how to control her orogeny, but the only tools she has are the ones that were used on her at the Fulcrum. We also get a look at collaborators/enforcers of the oppressive regime, and how they too are harmed by their role – an inhumane society has to warp its allies and weapons in order to be effective. The whole thing is just incredibly well done.

I’m making it sound like it’s just a big po-faced allegory, which is a huge disservice, because honestly, the Broken Earth trilogy is first and foremost a damn good story, and I can’t wait to see where the third one goes.

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