And Then I Read: THE OBELISK GATE and THE STONE SKY by N. K. Jemisin
Recently I read and reviewed the first book in Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, “The Fifth Season,” and loved it. I try to alternate books I read among different authors, but this series is so good, I couldn’t resist reading the second and third books of the trilogy in quick succession, and I liked them just as much. All three books won the Hugo Award, three years in a row, a first for a trilogy. They are great reads. I’m keeping my comments on these two general and broad, to avoid spoilers.
The narrative in the first book jumps around in time and focuses on several female characters and one male character with important roles to play in the story, and only gradually over the extent of the first book do we come to understand fully the relationships of these characters. The setting is a world continually rocked by earthquakes, volcanoes, and similar disruptions that wreak havoc on the people who live on its one giant continent. Those people see the world itself as an enemy. One small group of inhabitants is born with special powers over such events, and they often quell the effects, but can also cause them. That makes them distrusted and hated by those who don’t have that power. The orogenes, as they’re called, live in fear among regular people: if they are found out, their lives are in danger. One group of orogenes has been trained to serve the ruling government, but the immense eruption and cataclysm that begins the first book essentially destroys that government.
In the first book, at the time of The Rift, the event that broke the continent in two, Essun has been discovered as a hidden orogene living in a small community far from any city. It happened when her husband detected the orogene power of her young son and immediately killed the child. Then he ran away with their daughter Nassun, even though she too is an orogene. Essun is forced to flee her home as well, searching for Nassun, and is taken in by a community run by other orogenes, where she finds a new place for a while.
In the first book, we learn nothing of Nassun, but in the second and third her story is told, and becomes the second main narrative alongside that of her mother Essun. Nassun’s orogene power is massive, but mostly untrained. Her father takes her to a place he hopes can remove that power, but there Nassun is given more training and finds a new mission in life. Meanwhile, Essun’s new home is under attack from an overwhelming army. In the later two books we also learn much more about the strange people known as stone eaters, who can move within the earth at will, and their origin brings new meaning to all the horrible things happening on this planet. Will either Essun or Nassun find a way to stop the destruction? Several characters from the first book return in unexpected ways, acting as teachers and friends when we might have assumed they’d perished. Many other surprising revelations keep the story gripping, and it all builds to a satisfying conclusion.
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* This article was originally published here