While overall I did enjoy the book, I didn’t feel that The Obelisk Gate was as good as the first in the series. There are a couple of reasons; the first is that the pace is very slow, and the second is that (as I feared) it’s chapters from Essun’s perspective that constitute the vast majority of the book, and something about them still is just not clicking with me. The few chapters following Nassun and Schaffa, in contrast, were like bouts of daylight breaking through a thickly clouded winter sky. Those are the ones that reminded me that there are a lot of great things about this series.
The Obelisk Gate is very much a middle book; its concern is getting all the characters into position, and all the lore out into the open, to set the stage for the final-part showdown. Essun spends the whole book in and around an underground comm called Castrima. She and the reader learn a lot of things about the stone eaters, Father Earth, and this little thing called “magic”, while also being a major participant in the internal politics of the comm.
The second major plotline, as I mentioned, follows Essun’s daughter Nassun. In the first book, you might remember, Essun was following in pursuit after her husband Jija killed their son Uche and took off with Nassun. This book tells Nassun’s side of that journey (which is heart-achingly sad), which finishes when she and her father arrive in a far-southern comm named Jekity. A number of other orogene kids live near there, along with three Guardians… and who do you know is one of them? Essun’s own former Guardian, Schaffa.
Like Schaffa and Damaya in the first book, the sweet, loving dynamic that develops here between Schaffa and Nassun is one of the best things about this book. Nassun is troubled by her power: with fearsome abilities, she keeps causing harm whether or not she wants to. But Schaffa is always so caring and supportive – the father figure she deserved all along. On that note, actually, I liked the character of Hoa as well, who is similarly supportive (although without Schaffa’s menacing undertones) of Essun.
The conclusion to this book is fairly dramatic and gives me hope that the final instalment, The Stone Sky, will have far broader horizons than this. There are a lot of tensions between characters that I’m expecting to have a really big payoff, and the whole theme of the conflict between Father Earth and various camps of Earth’s inhabitants also seems like it’ll erupt spectacularly. Three stars for this, but I’m expecting a rebound for the final book.