Book Review: The Obelisk Gate

This is a review of the second book in a trilogy. If you missed it, check out our thoughts on the first book, The Fifth Season.

My feelings about the Broken Earth trilogy are simple: these are currently my favorite books. Period. There are more poetic books. More dramatic. More action-packed. There are books with equally good worldbuilding. But, for my money, there is no science fiction series that better blends all these elements in perfect balance. It’s Avatar-style ‘earthbenders’ explained as hard-science-fiction, blended with post-apocalyptic action, wrapped around biting social commentary. What’s not to love?

Let’s talk about it.

The Basics:

Title: The Obelisk Gate
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Genre: Epic Fantasy, Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic, Drama, Mystery
Published: Orbit, 2016

Spoiler-Free Summary:

Again, if you think you might read this book but have not read The Fifth Season, go ahead and bookmark this page and close it down. I know I’m writing against my best interest, but it will be almost impossible to discuss book two here without giving hints about book one.

“The Evil Earth” is a constant theme… (Photo by Pixabay on

We pick up where Essun left off – brought into the underground community of Castrima, a village inside a giant geode. Here, they actually seed out, rather than shun, earth-controlling orogenes, as they essentially live in a fragile, giant, buried egg. In a world of frequent earthquakes, Essun’s skills are indispensable. That reality does little to dispel the superstitious distrust the stills (non-magical folk) feel towards her kind, and Essun must work hard – often against her jaded, guarded nature – to earn their trust. What will her new little family do, however, when an army comes knocking at their gate?

All the while, Essun and her dying mentor struggle to warp the magic to discover a way to heal the broken earth and end her world’s cyclical near-extinction-event seasons for good. If she doesn’t, the current disaster, the likes of which they have never seen, could be the end of humanity.

We also follow Essun’s daughter, Nassun, holed up far to the south, being raised by the same sociopathic monster who broke Essun decades before.

Why This Book is For You:

It’s a complete trilogy!

It is difficult to explain Jemisin’s writing style, but I will try. It is lyrical and elevated, but not (often, unless needed) through using a five-dollar vocabulary or layering in tons of metaphor. For that style, This is How You Lose The Time War and The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue come to mind. Rather, Jemisin uses everyday language in unconventional ways, to great effect. She is modern art to these other examples’ classic landscape. Both styles are beautiful in their own way. You’ll have to read it to see what I mean.

The primary drivers of this series are the mystery of the Broken Magic, and the intrapersonal wars within Essun and Nassun. For the former, The Obelisk Gate is a masterclass in worldbuilding, trickling in setting as mystery in a way that leaves the reader longing for more. For the later, the dark social forces around our two protagonists constantly seek to pull them away from their ideal selves. Their journeys are simultaneously unimaginable and infinitely relatable.

Where Can You Find More?

I always encourage my readers to get their news straight from the horse’s mouth from the author’s web site, especially to peruse their back list. This book won the 2017 Hugo award, just as The Fifth Season did in ’16. You can read about that here.

Happy reading, folks.

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