Second Book in the Broken Earth Trilogy
by: N.K. Jemisin
There’s a thing that happens with trilogies. Sometimes, anyway. The second book, the middle child, becomes the bridge between the two other books. Following this pattern is risky because BORING. It’s used as a a place for exegesis, a way to explain plot points and can be detail heavy without enough action. Backstory can be too long-winded. World-building history can be too technical. Plot can become stagnant in order to set-up the third and final book.
The Obelisk Gate is set-up, but I’m not mad about it. Let’s face it, The Fifth Season (Book One) gave us so much to think about, I felt like I needed a spreadsheet to log what I knew and what hadn’t yet been revealed. Jemisin is a crafty writer. She knows all the ways it’s possible for a second book in a trilogy to fail. She stays well away from boring. Yes, she is expository, but also keeps us hanging by not over-explaining. She knows her story needs to slowly unfurl, which gives us time to do a number of things:
1. Consider all characters’ wants and needs; what is propelling them?
2. Struggle with right and wrong. Are traditional morals present? If so, how do they apply in the book’s world?
3. Check our racial/sexual perceptions, perspectives, our sense of “otherness” or our fear of it.
4. Connect with displaced peoples. Feel the emotion of losing home, family, identity.
5. Concern us about our own future and well-being on this planet.
6. Scream, “WHAT NEXT?”
Book two questions survival. Is the world just too far gone? Is it worth it to keep going? We witness depravity that makes us wonder, “What does it take for a person to get to this point? How close are we to becoming them?” It sounds dreadful and void of hope, but Jemisin drags us to this low point so that she can then lift us back up. There is something to live for. There is a possible end to Evil Father Earth’s rampage. And, we care for these characters. We’re deeper into their relationships. Jemisin gives us backstory that goes back while also going forward. We don’t see the character development coming; it’s a surprise, an eye-opening answer to a question we didn’t even know we were asking.
That’s clever writing.
On to book three.