End Date: October 29th
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Pages: 448 (paperback)
Selected By: Elle Tea
“This is the way the world ends… for the last time.
“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.
“The Stillness is the wall which stands against the flow of tradition, the spark of hope long buried under the thickening ashfall. And it will not be broken.” – from Goodreads.
I wavered here. I loved The Fifth Season, but this installment was paced quite differently: the story moved quickly, but it didn’t have the same frantic, desperate scramble as its predecessor, and, in the end, our primary protagonist from Book 1 seemed to have come to a halt while the tale, her tale, flowed rapidly around her. My gut instinct was to give it a four-cup rating after completing the novel… but by the next day and after some thought, I had changed my mind.
They used to chisel stonelore into mountainsides in tablets as high as the sky, so that all could see and know the wisdom needed to survive. Alas: in the Stillness, destroying mountains is as easy as an orogene toddler’s temper tantrum. Destroying a people takes only a bit more effort.
Now, typically I’ll go with my gut reaction after finishing one of our books, since one’s initial reaction is typically one’s most honest. But one of the things I love about Jemisin’s novels is that, while firmly magical and fantastical, they are rooted in very modern, very common issues, and most of the characters are quite believable – as with real life, there is a fine line between the heroes and the villains, and separating one from the other is often simply a matter of perspective. And it takes a bit for that to settle with me. Initially after reading The Obelisk Gate, I was left thinking, “Gah, I can’t like this heroine. One of the most unlikable people from the first one is actually more likable than her now. Hoa is about the only one who stays constant.”
But, as I said, I had to chew it over a bit. It had to settle.
Something of her is warped out of true by this moment, and from now on all her acts of affection toward her father will be calculated, performative. Her childhood dies, for all intents and purposes.
As we learned in the previous installment, Essun is a revenant; she is what was left over after her other two incarnations were worn down and ripped away. Her childhood was punctuated by fear and prejudice, and her salvation proved to be little better at the Fulcrum under the tutelage of the Guardians. The nervous, skittish child was chiseled away, broken bone by broken bone, to create a stone-cold bitch who held herself apart… but whose ferocity was a facade, a compensation so that none would know how truly afraid she was of letting anyone in or caring about anyone else. And then she found acceptance, she found friendship and allies she loved… All of that is typical of the fantasy-hero, the struggle to become powerful – but most fantasy heroes typically use their powers for good, and that’s what sets them apart from the baddies they encounter. They don’t typically destroy whole settlements because of the hatred of a few. They certainly don’t smother babies to death with their bare hands. And after leaving her like that at the end of The Fifth Season, we come to The Obelisk Gate, where we hear of Nassun’s childhood and perception of her mother… and it does Essun no favors. She definitely isn’t winning Mother of the Year anytime soon, and after her behavior in Castrima, she wouldn’t win Friend or Citizen of the Year, either. She becomes even more bitter, and she begins doing her level best to alienate and piss off everyone around her, from Hoa to the headswoman Ykka as well as some old friends and allies. She comes across as angry, haughty, and stubborn to a fault and is a thoroughly unlikable woman…
And yet. And yet, I don’t have to like her. The real question is who would I be had I gone through her experiences? Would I emerge from all of the years of abuse, mistrust, hatred, and helplessness with a sense of humor? With a sense of honor? Or would I become someone unrecognizable? Someone I wouldn’t – I couldn’t – like? Someone like Essun? And the reality is this: if Essun had been any softer, if she’d been kinder and honorable and trusting, if she’d been a gentle mother and loyal, honest wife… she would have died. Years ago. Probably in that barn before Schaffa even met her.
“And you have seen so much purposeless suffering that at least being killed for a reason can be borne?”
And Schaffa… Smiling Schaffa, grinning like a maniac even as he broke little Essun’s hand, even when he taught her to control her powers by applying systematic physical and mental torture. At the end of The Fifth Season, we were left with only a vague impression of Essun’s former Guardian – sure, he saved wee Essun as a kiddie, and he protected her while she was at the Fulcrum… but those were all part of his job. That is what Guardians do, after all – find orogenes and train them. He was the weapon used by the Fulcrum to keep Essun in line. He ultimately had saved her life, and he did show her friendship, of a sort, but his manipulation of her young mind, the way he twisted love around pain and taught loyalty with suffering caused her to fear him more than any other. In The Obelisk Gate, we see Schaffa yet again saving a young orogene – this time Essun’s daughter, Nassun – and we see him doing the same things with her, the subtle manipulations, the mad grinning, the complete disregard for life unless it is his own or his orogene’s, the not-quite-right, more-than-a-little-creepy way he has of always being right there, always watching, always judging…
And yet. And yet, he admits that his overall creepy, leering nature is a byproduct of his own physical torture. He mourns what he did in the past, the sacrifices he was forced to make under duress, the pain he was forced to cause – he regrets the loss of his beloved Essun, and he hates and struggles now to control the part of him that made him a Guardian, that made him do all the horrible things he did to all of the orogenes in his charge. No longer with the Fulcrum, he saves Nassun’s life, he shows her friendship, he appears to love her, to be loyal to her rather than simply demanding loyalty from her. He accepts her for what she is in a way her biological father simply refuses to, and he teaches her without hurting her in a way her mother simply didn’t know how to do. Do I pity him? Yes. A little. But I still can’t bring myself to forgive him for what he did in the first book. Not yet. Not until I see where he’s going with this.
You should imagine me as what I truly am among my kind, then: old, and powerful, and greatly feared. A legend. A monster.
We don’t see quite as much of the world itself as we did in the previous installment. Where The Fifth Season moved us from settlement to settlement and got us used to the idea of this world and its history and inhabitants, The Obelisk Gate is more settled. It is a digging in, for all intents and purposes, with all of our characters essentially fixed in place. What new areas and people we do see are laid before us with Jemisin’s typical skill with imagery – lost cities, violent raiders, new Fulcrums… In this second book of the series, the power of the orogenes is front and center, from the beauty of Essun’s intricate Fulcrum-taught craft to the limitless power of Ykka’s self-trained might, and we see a glimpse of what the cost for wielding such a power might be.
Now you know that miracles are a matter of just effort, just perception, and maybe just magic.
Jemisin’s Broken Earth series is about magic and those who can use it. But even more so is it about prejudice and bigotry and the uneducated, illogical fears from which they stem. It’s about family, friendship, and the ties that bind people to one another. It’s about acceptance of yourself, no matter what others may say or think or do.
And, yeah. There’s magic. And it’s awesome.
The third and final book of the trilogy, The Stone Sky, is due out next year.
Elle’s Favorite Character(s): Hoa FTW; he’s sensible and seems to truly care about Essun. And Ykka – she is a good leader with a steady head and calm hand who can make the difficult choices without making excuses – even those which require sacrifice.
Elle Tea read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.
I thought that this book was very good. I am going to finish the series when the last one comes out. I am rating this one as three teacups because I felt the last one was definitely four teacups but I did not like this one as much as the first one. I can’t relate very well to most of the characters. I don’t understand why Essun and Alabaster like to talk in riddles and sometimes I want to really urge them just to be straight forward with people instead of these constant riddles.
The pity of a disguised stone eater has galvanized you as the screams of a fellow human being haven’t. Such a monster you are.
I like this world the author has made and I can picture it very clearly. It has some different elements that I like a lot. For instance the floating obelisks. Those are quite awesome and intriguing. I also like the orogenes. There are already a lot of books with vampires, elves, and dwarves. We get to now follow a different group of people and I do like a change of pace.
In the moment, however, she thinks, He still loves me, and starts crying, too. I thought that this was very sad when I read it.
I like Nassun and really want her to grow to love her mother but there are some things she needs to work on. She is only ten but she is too trusting of Schaffa. I can kind of see why since her dad does not love her the same as he used to and Schaffa showed her kindness in one of her greatest times of need, but she should be weary of him. There’s something about him that is not right other than the obvious (if you read the book you will know what that means 🙂 ).
Even you, my Essun, my treasure, my pawn. One day, I hope, you will forgive me.
You know you’re right. The belief that orogenes will never be anything but the world’s meat dances amid the cells of you, like magic. It isn’t fair. You just want your life to matter.
There is a point in the story where Essun thinks, “It’s always harder to fight for other people than for the self”. I couldn’t tell if this was sad or not. I think it’s sad if she means it as it’s hard to fight for someone because it’s easier to protect yourself. I went back and reread this section and I think she actually means it’s harder fighting for others because now you have something to lose. This is still sad but would show a crack in her hard exterior because I would take this as she is fighting for something and someone she cares about. I hope she opens up a little more to people around her in the next book. I see why she is the way she is and I also see why she would need to be guarded but I do wish for happiness for her. Too much bad has happened for there to not be some good coming in the future.
She’s very, very glad to have brains to work on.
Nassun is growing up but I’m not sure if she is developing properly. I think that she may be being twisted by Schaffa. For the world’s sake I hope she has an eye opening experience because I think she is going to be very strong and a great asset to whoever’s side she goes to.
I think that there will be great and exciting things coming for the next book and am very interested to find out what happens.
BillMo’s Favorite Character(s): Hoa, because he’s the most sensible character. And also I feel a little sorry for him.
BillMo read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.
I am so glad Elle Tea picked this for this month. After the disappointment of last month, I was thrilled to read something that kept me engaged from word one to the very end. Ms. Jemisin, well done. I now have a better understanding of some of the characters, their motivations and the circumstances they are forced to live under and how they impact those circumstances.
This installment picks up where it left off, as did my disdain for Essun. Now that I am aware that the characters in the previous installment are in fact the same person, my distaste for her continued. Her innate snobbery and self-absorption is still what grates on my nerves the most. I understand her being in a state of upheaval; after all, her previous mate has shown back up in her life to remind her of a life she fought to forget, or more the deeds she wishes to forget. To say her feelings are mixed are an understatement. Albaster is back and unfortunately, not for long. He reminds her of her transgressions against him. He’s not there to rub it in, but to teach her how to hone her skills even more so that she can complete what he has started. What is more troubling to me is that in spite of all that she has done wrong, she still has the audacity to look down on those who would protect her and accept her as she is, when all the world would have killed her.
Essun is a jerk. However, you find that there are moments of sincerity, vulnerability and sheer brilliance, that even I can’t deny it. Her feelings for Alabaster are not as complicated as she would have us to believe. Is it truly a love/hate relationship or just her angst of the wrong that she has done to Alabaster? I say it is the latter. She draws out her lessons from Alabaster to prolong the time she can spend with him. However, her hot-tempered ways causes him to take measures that he cannot take back and that is enough to break her in a sense. Her attitude toward Hoa is the most annoying to me throughout the entire book. She’s clearly uncomfortable with him, but then when he goes missing, she finds that she is concerned. When he returns, a bit worse for wear, she does her best to assist him. However, as soon as it is time to speak, she becomes the haughty person and he the untouchable. More on this later.
Now, I must say I did enjoy that we see what has become of Nassun and Schaffa in this edition. This also brings about some interesting parallels between the childhood of Damaya/Syenite/Essun and Nassun. Damaya was treated poorly by her kin, being relegated to a barn to live like an animal. While Nassun is spared this, the cruelty is no less palpable. The cruelty she suffers at the hands of Essun is a cruelness that is also a kindness. Essun made it her business to make sure she protected her children as she could not her first born. She trained Nassun in the same harshness as the Fulcrum. She breaks her hand to teach her control and obedience, just as Schaffa had when he took her in his charge. Essun is hard on Nassun, whether it be out of fear (which is most likely the issue) or the need to control something that is beyond most and maybe even keep her past at the Fulcrum in the present. In addition, just as Damaya took to her studies with zeal, so does Nassun. No matter how cruelly she treated Nassun, it was always for Nassun’s betterment and survival.
This leads me to Nassun. This is a young girl who has wisdom beyond her years. Whether that is the result of being the progeny of Essun and her teachings or whether she has an innate sense of survival that drives her forward, there is one thing that drives her the most, the desire to feel loved. As we know, in reality and in the literary world, the desire to feel loved, wanting to belong and fit in is a powerful motivator for most people. Nassun grows up and quickly. I feel that mostly begins under the hand of Essun. However, being on the road with Jija, her father, the reality of her tenuous position with him, culminating with an incident that causes her to realize she must play a role with him to survive. It was hard to not look at her situation as if she were a captive having to set her mind to appeasing while plotting her escape. The realization comes to her that she cannot trust her father and that she must play role with him to survive is poignant. What child should have to do this? Yet, there are many in this world who must. I admire her for the clarity in her mind to handle her father, while it is manipulation, it’s manipulation for her own good.
Just like Demaya, Essun is rescued by Schaffa. Schaffa is just as dangerous but considerably more vulnerable in this novel. We now know that he is constantly tormented by what is called the Core stone. The question is, what is the motivation of the Core stone and to what end is Schaffa trying to achieve his goal? Schaffa represents to Nassun the same as he did to Demaya, a savior and warden all in one. However, for Nassun, he is the father she had before everything fell apart. Her love for Schaffa and his acceptance of her may be the undoing for them both. Schaffa is honest with Nassun as to his need of her skills, how the other Guardians feel toward her and how her desire to help him could kill him. I know it is unbelievable to the other ladies, but I like Schaffa. While he is powerful and could be a threat, I do not believe that his motivations toward Nassun are ill intent. I think we need to know more about this Core Stone and what it’s desires are or more to the point, the desires of its maker are. No matter what happens, I feel that Schaffa would protect Nassun to his dying breath. I hope I am not proven wrong and this motives are the purest as they can be.
As for Tonkee/Binoff. I hated her in the first book, and that is no less true in this book. While she is the epitome of the single-minded academic, the genius that is on the cusp of insanity, she is also by far one of the most obnoxious self-centered people in the novel. Tonkee’s motivation isn’t about helping, but to learn more. There is a scene where she makes a horrible mistake and the only way to rectify it, unfortunately, is to amputate her arm. Rather than saying, “thank you for saving my life because I’m too stupid to do so myself”, she rather make snide comments and continue on her single-minded pursuits. I am curious if after being infected by the Core stone if Tonkee would become as Schaffa is or if Schaffa was an orogeny transformed into a Guardian by the Core stone. Honestly, if Tonkee would have perished in this novel, I would not have minded.
Lerna is ever steadfast in this novel. The only true change we see in him is that he is more direct and isn’t worried about being so kind any longer. He’s brutally honest when needed and is truly understanding of what is going on around him. I think he is angry that the world is broken, as is apparent in some of his comments and using the derogatory Rogga most of the novel. I’ll allow him that, after all, an orogeny did, break his world. Yet, Lerna adapts and moves into his new life with relative ease and a steadfastness that Essun should learn from. There is a scene where he speaks bluntly, telling Essun what the situation is and that her attitude needs some adjusting. I truly appreciated him for that. Now, whether it was out of true frustration with her as an individual or the fact he may have feelings for her beyond friendship remains to be seen and may be tackled in the next installment.
I was impressed by Ykka and what her goal was in Castrima. As the headswoman, she attempted to make every occupant feel needed, wanted and that they belonged. I did not appreciate Essun’s general attitude about Ykka’s status as a feral. We learn from Alabaster that orogeny is more than just a science, there is also magic. I believe that this is the realm that Ykka’s skills lie in. Essun looks down upon Ykka as a feral who has no control, yet her control is something that Essue must learn from. I understand that Essun’s learned biases color how she acts and reacts to the “feral” orogeny, but I believe that Ykka’s skills are as finely tuned, albeit differently, as Essun’s is. There is a lot that Essun can learn from Ykka, as Ykka can learn from Essun. I look forward to seeing how this plays out in the next installment.
In this installment we learn that there is a three sided war. However, we still are unclear as to who the third side is and what any side truly wants. Any side can be proven to be the villain here and I’m intrigued to see how it plays out. It is clear that Essun and Nassun are not currently working toward the same goal. However, who’s goal is just and right for the world? Ah, politics. Yet, what I am most concerned about is this third side of the war. What and who is at the core of that faction is a great unknown that surely will be revealed. We also learn more about the Stone Eaters in this installment and that they are split amongst the three sides of the war. We learn that they were once human and by the end, I’m suspecting that they were orogeny at some point. We see how they travel, fight, and ultimately love.
This leads me to Hoa. Last installment we are introduced to Hoa as a strange young boy who latches on to Essun. She looks at him with distrust then and through a good portion of this novel. However, Hoa proves himself the most ept of all in this novel. He loves Essun and will do everything within his power to protect, thus the preemptive strike(s) he makes before his necessary transformation. Not to give too much away, but his transformation is awesome and it comes to bare that he is the badass we never suspected he will be. In fact, I believe he will be Essun’s greatest ally. Elle Tea and I both love the scene where Essun gazes at him during a conflict and she sees him for what he is and the word that sums it up is WARRIOR. Fitting and I can’t wait to see how this evolves in the next installment.
There is so much that we could discuss about this book. However, as you know me, I love people and their dynamics in novels. Ms. Jemisin brings to fore politics and any number of social issues (depends upon your perspective) and expresses subtle but poignant observations on people’s dealings with said issues, good and bad. There is too much to go over in a single sitting and all I can say is I CAN’T WAIT for the next installment. I’ll eagerly await the next one, as I eagerly awaited Justin Cronin’s City of Mirrors (just hoping the execution and resolution will be more to my taste).
Esbe’s Favorite Character(s): Schaffa and Hoa.
Lady Esbe read the Orbit paperback version of this book.