The lure of N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth world drew me back to The Obelisk Gate (2017), the middle volume of the trilogy. Replicating the structural intricacy of the first book, this one splits its narrative along two time-separated tracks. The first carries us deeper into the hardships of the Season begun in the first book, wherein the powerful orogene Essun—having found sanctuary in the underground city of Castrima, an experimental new comm where orogenes live openly among the stills who fear them—struggles to learn from her exasperating mentor/lover Alabaster the keys to orogeny and the future of the Stillness. The other jumps back in time to introduce us to Essun’s daughter Nassun, who disappeared with Essun’s dastardly husband to kick off Essun’s quest in book one; this thread explores Nassun’s flight from Tirimo to a new home, where her own skillful orogeny continues to develop, and she begins to learn how she might be an important figure for the future of the Stillness.
The Obelisk Gate definitely has the feel of a “bridge book,” and its narrative isn’t quite as captivating as The Fifth Season, but it’s a worthy, satisfying continuation of the saga. Jemisin’s prose remains lush and lyrical, compellingly describing the harsh world of the Stillness, and the world-building deepens here, somehow increasing the series’ already vast scope. Jemisin never loses sight of the personal stories, though, somehow managing to make the experiences of Essun and Nassun seem momentous and important against an enormous historical backdrop. It definitely doesn’t stand alone, but fans of The Fifth Season will enjoy this solid, adroit continuation, and likely leave it intrigued and committed to see the saga through to its conclusion.