The Obelisk Gate deserves 5-stars for the writing – character development, world-building, pacing, etc. But, what really stood out to me was that Jemisin found a way to weave real world issues into the story seamlessly. I won’t go into everything so as not to spoil (and also because, frankly, I’m not sure I’m smart enough to break down her work – she is just way too good at what she does.) There are a few things I want to talk about though.
Xenophobia and Racism. We hear those words every day and way too often in news stories. This series tackles ‘irrational fear of those different from yourself’ head on. The main character, Essun, is an orogene. She has powers that frighten the stills (those that don’t have the power). Orogenes are called roggas as a slur. Some orogenes start to take the word back and use it themselves. Others, like Essun, have a very hard time with that. Many stills don’t want orogenes in their community and are willing to give away their children and / or kill to keep them out. The reader’s focus is on Essun so we understand that this fear and hatred is ridiculous, harmful and, ultimately, will hurt the stills. Because we put ourselves in Essun’s shoes.
There is also a thread throughout both books in the series thus far that discusses the variations in how people from different areas look. Some have straight hair, others curly. It might be coarse or more fine. As you read, you learn that some hair is considered more desirable, more accepted. There are different skin tones, eye color, etc. And people are judged based on these physical characteristics. What I appreciated most is that Jemisin doesn’t preach to the reader about these judgements. She simply writes the story and leaves us to come to our own conclusions. (My conclusion? People can be awful to each other for no good reason, other than ‘it’s different’, whether in ficition or real life.)
The second thing that really stood out to me, specifically in this installment, is the brilliant portrayal of the sometimes confusing and contentious relationship that is mother-daughter. (Slight spoiler coming because I really do want to talk about this.) We get to spend some time with Nassun, Essun’s daughter and she’s kind of a mess – probably like most pre-teen girls. She hates her mother for several reasons but primarily because her mother was hard on her. Keep in mind that Essun was trying to save Nassun’s life. When Nassun showed that she had orogenic powers, Essun knew that she would have to hide it and train Nassun to control herself. Problem is that she had to do this alone. Her husband didn’t know about their power (and we know where that led for their son, Uche, when he found out…) So, Essun became the bad guy; the one who was the disciplinarian in all things. Nassun’s father became this fictional figure to her of a protector. Even when she knows that he would kill her for her power, she still prefers him to her mother. Jemisin, quite honestly, took my breath away with how well she wrote the relationship between Essun and Nassun. My guess is that the struggle between them and their respective power will be the driving force of the plot for book three and I cannot wait.
Lastly, let’s talk about love. Not physical or sexual love. But, just love. Essun reaches a few epiphanies about prior and current relationships as she makes her way through book two. Simply beautiful. (There is more I want to say but can’t. Because spoilers.)
Ok…one more thing. Have you ever had a moment when reading where you thought you had figured something out and you think to yourself “oh, that’s what’s happening”? Sometimes you are right and sometimes, sadly, you are wrong. In this case, I had an aha moment about 80% in and when I found out I was right, I screamed out loud “I KNEW IT!” My husband was not impressed but my fellow book geeks might be.
I am in love with this series. 5/5 stars.