The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin: A review

Once again we enter N.K. Jemisin's richly imagined world called Stillness. It's a world that is never still.

As we learned in the first entry in this trilogy, The Fifth Season, Stillness is populated by human or humanoid beings called stills, orogenes, stone-eaters, and guardians. And floating somewhere above them all are a series of obelisks. It is unclear who made the obelisks or just what purpose they serve.

At the time of events in The Obelisk Gate, the apocalyptic, world-shattering action of The Fifth Season is in the past and the residents of Stillness are trying to find ways to adapt and survive in a world gone mad.

In the first book, we had the point(s) of view of Damaya/Syenite/Essun. In the aftermath of everything, we now get Essun once again as she makes a place for herself in an underground comm (community) led by a strong female head. This comm is not without its conflicts and some of the arguments sound very like what we hear in the daily news in our own country, especially those arguments which seek to set one group against another.

Essun is searching for her daughter, Nassun, who is an orogene like herself. Nassun was spirited away from her home by her father, Jija, and Essun is concerned for her safety and for her further training and education as an orogene.

We meet Nassun and Jija and learn that Essun is right to fear for her safety. Jija is taking her to a place where he has heard that she can learn how to not be an orogene and that is what he fervently wishes for.

Fortunately for Nassun, she meets Schaffa, her mother's former Guardian at the Fulcrum. Schaffa takes over the training and protection of Essun's daughter.

The action in this book is slower than in the first book. The apocalypse becomes a slow-moving disaster and we see how different groups position themselves to try to survive. Meanwhile, Essun's friend/lover/teacher, Alabaster Tenring, the world-destroyer, is present in the same comm with Essun and he continues her instruction, including urgently trying to teach her how to utilize the obelisks. 

I found the narrative in this book somewhat confusing. For example, it wasn't entirely clear to me just who the "you" addressed in the narratives at the beginning of chapters was. Best guess: Essun. But it seemed unnecessarily ambiguous. 

And what's the deal with the Moon being flung out of orbit and into space at some point in the past? And that's why Father Earth is angry and is taking it out on the inhabitants of Stillness? He wants his Moon back and apparently Nassun and/or Essun will attempt to deliver it. Maybe in the next book? Stay tuned.

In short, I think this book suffered just a bit from "second book syndrome." It didn't seem quite as fresh and powerful as the first one. Still, overall, it was a compelling story - good enough to win the Hugo Award just like the first one, so what do I know?

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


  1. It seems that despite your niggles with this book you still liked it a great deal.

    1. Yes, Jemisin's world-building is impressive, even when it seems to defy the laws of physics, and the characters of Essun and Nassun, orogene outcasts in the still world, are sympathetic and the reader wants them to succeed.

  2. I agree with every point you make here. Just when I felt like maybe I knew my way around the Stillness after the first book, the geode and all that goes on there was a whole new world it seemed. But I am so curious about the moon thing. Once I finish the last book, if I still feel not completely sure about what went on, I may read them again.

    1. It might take a second, or even third, reading to really get to know all the ins and outs of this world.


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