Hugo reading: The Obelisk Gate, by N.K. Jemisin

N.K. Jemisin has offered an excerpt from her novel, The Obelisk Gate, which is the second novel in what I believe is going to be a trilogy. Normally, I get frustrated by excerpts, but with the voting deadline breathing down my neck, and having read so many works that I really did not like, I am feeling rather more benign about the whole idea.

Of course, having said that, it turns out that this is the only novel of the four I’ve read so far that I’ve really *wanted* to read more of. This is probably partly because I prefer fantasy to science fiction, but it’s also because I really love the narrator’s voice, which reminds me a bit of one Ursula Vernon’s narrators – knowledgeable, chatty, a little bit cranky, but with your best interests at heart.

Here’s the very start of the novel:

Hmm. No. I’m telling this wrong.

After all, a person is herself, and others. Relationships chisel the final shape of one’s being. I am me, and you. Damaya was herself and the family that rejected her and the people of the Fulcrum who chiseled her to a finne point. Syenite was Alabaster and Innon and the people of poor lost Allia and Meov. Now you are Tirimo and the ash-strewn road’s walkers and your dead children . . . and also the living one who remains. Whom you will get back.

That’s not a spoiler. You are Essun, after all. You know this already. Don’t you?

It’s as confusing as hell, but I somehow want to keep reading.

I’m still not entirely sure what this novel is about, to be honest. At the end of the excerpt (which is the first hundred pages or so of the book), I do have a sense of the world, but it was harder to jump into than Death’s End was, so it doesn’t work quite so well as a standalone. What I know is that there are people called orogenes, who can sense and influence minerals in a variety of ways, up to and including causing or preventing earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. And the general population fears such people to such an extent that they will kill them in infancy if they find out about them. There has clearly been some cataclysmic event (I suspect in the previous book) that has sent the whole world into a Season, which seems to be something like an Ice Age, or another inhospitable geological Age.

There also seem to be untrained orogenes running around who can potentially do different things.

Our main characters are Essun, an orogene who has taken shelter with a community that also shelters a former lover of hers, Alabaster, a powerful orogene who seems to have caused the recent apocalypse and is now dying, and Nassun, her daughter.  The two are separated – Nassun’s father discovered that his children were orogenes, and killed Nassun’s younger brother, but can’t quite bear to kill Nassun, his favourite.  Instead, he took her with him, and left.  Nassun, for her part, loves her father and was desperate to get away from her mother – but she is also now more than a little afraid of what her father might do to her.  And Essun wants her daughter back, but does not know where to look for her.  And anyway, the priority right now is survival, and possibly – assuming it is possible – doing something to stop this season.

And that’s it, really.  I like the worldbuilding a lot, and the characters, and I want to know more.  It’s hard to judge where to put this on the ballot, given that it is an excerpt where the other novels in the voter pack are complete, but I’m inclined to put it at the top, because I actually do want to keep reading, and in fact, would like to go back and start with The Fifth Season first.  None of the other books on the list have made me want more, so I think that probably means that this belongs at the top of my ballot for now.

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