Oct 19 2019

The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth #2) by N.K. Jemisin

I gave myself a few days to properly mull over this book, and you guys. My biggest impression still is “that’s not okay.”

First, stylistically (thematically?), I really, really hated that N. K. Jemisin veered away from the hard sci-fi of the first novel to get all fake(?) magicky. Honestly, when Alabaster (still hate that guy) actually said the word, I literally burst out, “Oh, come on!” I understand that any advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic but can we not? You could call it electromagnetic force or leap straight to quantum theory and I would not care enough to suspend disbelief, but magic? Ironically, calling it that drained a lot of the magic out of the book for me. I’m okay with not understanding more than the rudiments of an author’s sci-fi. I’m not okay with having a very cool post-apocalyptic far future world turned into fairyland for no discernible reason whatsoever. No judgment against fairylands, which I also happen to adore, but not as substitutes for science-based approaches. It’s especially galling when this series started out as sci-fi cloaked in dystopian fantasy, only to have the author psyche us out by saying “haha, actually, it’s still fantasy.” Reeks of intellectual laziness.

And then there was Essun’s use of disproportionate force later on in the book. Unlike Doug, I didn’t have a problem with what Nassun did earlier on — as I’ve stated in other reviews, kids do a lot of dumb and terrible things because they simply have no idea of the consequences — but I’m getting tired of Essun living in her feelings all the time. Yes, it’s a crazy ass time and the world is falling down around her ears in a continuous cycle of misery, but a) she’d already proven that she could literally disarm someone, and b) even if PTSD caused the overreaction, in the immortal words of Jake Peralta, “cool story, still murder.” Nassun does terrible things because she doesn’t know any better but Essun just keeps defaulting to killing and it’s not fun to read. She isn’t growing as a person and by the end of The Obelisk Gate, I found it very hard to empathize with her.

I also feel like certain themes of the book are a really sloppy interpretation of current American affairs, which is a disservice to those actual issues. While in the real world, black kids are maltreated and murdered because assholes weaponize black bodies, orogenes actually are living weapons: I feel like we’re meant to correlate the two but it just doesn’t work. I want to read books about black empowerment but not about using those powers wantonly, and seemingly primarily, to destroy, thereby fulfilling the negative predictions of racists. And Essun’s continuing violence while claiming PTSD feels more like something a cop would say than a civilian.

Idk, maybe the final book in the series and the inevitable mother-daughter showdown will make this second installment less gross to me, much like how season three of Jessica Jones (a.k.a the extended Billie Eilish video) made sense of what they did to *cough*ruin*cough* a beloved character in season two. I have The Stone Sky on hold now with the library so we shall see!

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