Title: The Obelisk Gate
Author: N. K. Jemisin
Publisher: Orbit Books
Publisher’s Blurb: The season of endings grows darker as civilization fades into the long cold night. Alabaster Tenring – madman, world-crusher, savior – has returned with a mission: to train his successor, Essun, and thus seal the fate of the Stillness forever.
As I read The Obelisk Gate, it became deeply personal, often driving tears to well up as I felt the searing pain of bullies, including parents whose lives can only be understood in retrospect. Nassun’s search for identity and her confusing relationship with her father reminded me of my own confusing relationships. What matter the details, save that Nassun’s search for the warm glow of love she’d once felt transferred to another father figure? Nassun finds herself the smartest, most talented in her small class, and one mistake nearly undoes the entire sense of community she’s found. It is a lifetime hard task to come to terms with one’s self and the way others react. And it can be brutal, as it proves to be for Nassun. She, at least, has the orogene power within her to make it stop. Karma’s a bitch baby.
The Obelisk Gate is a coming together. Factions find each other, comms welcome new citizens, old friends are reunited. And yet, The Obelisk Gate is about division. Factions find each other but begin plotting their war against other factions, the new citizens in comms cause disruption and new lines are drawn.
At its core The Obelisk Gate is about politics. Political identity of the orogenes, who are welcomed with open arms in Castrima. Family identity as Essun’s daughter, Nassun, wrestles with who her parents are and what that means to an eleven-year-old girl. “Good” Guardian vs. “Not so Good” Guardian, but who determines good? Stone Eaters trying to set agendas. And a narrator who, it is revealed, plays an all too godly hand in Essun’s part in powering the obelisk gate, and catching the moon.
Nowhere is safe, everyone is struggling to dig in and survive the Season which, thanks to Alabaster’s creation of the Rift in The Fifth Season, will be the longest in history, lasting thousands of years.
We follow Nassun on the road with her father, Jija, going to a place he is convinced will cure her of her orogeny and return his little girl to him. His resentful anger gets in the way of their relationship, his narcissism does not allow him to see Nassun is right in front of him and doesn’t want to be cured. Her power is big, and she’s dedicated to learning everything she can about using it. Even after giving him a warning, showing him just how strong her power is and what she can do with it, Jija is still determined to make her into his ideal daughter. Things don’t go well for Jija, and Nassun has no regrets
In Castrima, Essun gets pulled into the politics of the comm. Seeking consensus and advice, Ykka is trying to keep human prejudices from becoming deathly problems. Suspicion builds as Essun’s self-control frays around the edges. Alabaster holds the key knowledge Essun needs to reshape the world and give everyone a chance to survive.
And a very changed Schaffa is at the comm, Found Moon, where Nassun ends up. His role with Essun, when she was Daya, is mirrored in his relationship with Nassun. Only now, he expresses regret for the many horrible things did in the name of the Fulcrum. In his work with the orogenes at Found Moon, and most especially with Nassun, he sets about making amends.
The Obelisk Gate is big and complex, dark and intense. Just as The Fifth Season was filled with bigotry and violence, so too is The Obelisk Gate. Orogeny stands as the proxy for all the ‘ism’s we face in our lives; sexism, homophobia, racism, classism, all of them. And under the stress of the Season, fractures become breaks.
At the equator, Nassun, Schaffa, and their group which includes at least one stone eater. In the south, Essun and her group introduced to us in The Fifth Season. Thousands of years of history come into play, new elements are introduced, and identity politics rise to a fevered pitch. One comm wants to absorb every resource it can while on raids. Castrima will have none of it. Stone eaters circle each other, and Nassun and Essun.
Alabaster’s final words for Essun are, “First a network, then the Gate. Don’t rust it up, Essun. Inno and I didn’t love you for nothing.” While saving Castrima, she understands what he means, and as Castrima packs up to move northward into a now vacant comm which will support them for years, Essun knows how to do what she needs to do.
It is Nassun who has the last word. “Tell me how to bring the moon home.” In The Stone Sky, it will be up to mother and daughter to catch the moon, settle the rivalries, and stop the Seasons. It will be an epic battle. Just as deep and intense as the preceding books. Just as complicated, and as simple as catching the moon.
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