I loved ‘The Fifth Season’ – it was probably my best read of last year. So of course, I looked forward to ‘The Obelisk Gate’ with great anticipation. It’s really, really good… but it didn’t quite live up to those expectations. As often happens with second books, there’s a bit of a ‘sophomore slump.’ The first book is more tightly plotted, featuring strategically timed revelations; this is more of a straightforward “what happened next,” as the reader follows the further adventures of Essun and her estranged daughter, Nassun.
Essun is where we left her at the end of ‘The Fifth Season,’ in the (still amazing and cool) geode habitat, where a group of survivors how to weather the impending apocalyptic ‘season.’ The community faces stresses and strife from within and without, as deep-seated prejudices against those with the geologic powers known as orogeny are wrestled with; and rapacious invaders strive to steal their resources. Meanwhile, Essun’s mentor Alabaster, who’s responsible for the apocalyptic situation facing the world is succumbing to a fatal ailment, but, in a maddeningly opaque fashion, is trying to train Essun to harness her innate powers to activate the mysterious obelisks – and do… we’re not quite sure what.
Meanwhile, Nassun has found sanctuary in a different community. She was brought there by her murderous father, Jija, who believes that this place will ‘cure’ Nassun of her orogeny. However, the Guardian Schaffa is training Nassun in the use of her power, not eliminating her power. And Nassun is stronger than anyone realizes.
One of the things I really like about this story is the difficult ethics of it. Nearly all of the characters have done horrible things, and the author leaves it up to the reader to decide whether they were justified in the light of circumstances, and how we should regard these people. There are no heroes here – or are there?
The world and characters are still wonderfully complex and fascinating, and there’s no question but that I’ll follow this story into the next book… but on its own, this is not quite as good as the first installment.
[edited for accuracy]