Tag: fantasy

Some Thoughts on N. K. Jemisin’s The Obelisk Gate, Broken Earth #2 (Orbit, 2016)

26228034Let me begin by stating the obvious: N. K. Jemisin is a brilliant fantasy writer. The prequel to The Obelisk Gate, The Fifth Season, has recently been awarded the Hugo Award and it should not surprise you that a novel that by all accounts is an epic fantasy should win a science fiction award, because Jemisin kills it across every genre. The Fifth Season follows Damaya, Syenite, and Essun, three women “orogene,” individuals endowed with magic abilities to control seismic and other geological movements. In spite of having what appears to be very useful—and cool—powers in the context of a world perpetually ravaged by genocidal natural disasters, orogenes are considered subhumans by the non-magical “stills.” Orogenes (also pejoratively called “roggas”) are forcefully removed from their communities—when they are not killed by their parents—and trained at the Fulcrum to become Imperial agents in charge of controlling and protecting people from disasters. For yet unexplained reasons, the Stillness suffers from catastrophic natural disasters eventually unleashing “Fifth Seasons”—decades, sometimes centuries-long post-apocalyptic winters. Living in the Stillness revolves entirely on preparing for Seasons by imposing ruthless laws on the social and economic organization of comms and cities. The novel begins with Essun’s discovery that her husband Jija beat to death their infant son Uche after discovering that he inherited his mother’s (secret) orogeny. Essun goes on a vengeful quest to find Jija and their daughter Nassun, whom he kidnapped. Other chapter PoVs follow the child Damaya, who is taken to the Fulcrum for training, and Syenite, a four-ringed Imperial Orogene who goes on a mission with her ten-ringer mentor Alabaster. By the end of the novel, we discover that all three characters are one and the same person at different point of her life.

Obelisk Gate beings where Fifth Season left us, with Essun in the mysterious, orogene-controlled comm of Castrima, a city within a giant geode. We finally have access to Nassun’s point of view as her father takes her to the mysterious comm of Found Moon, founded by Essun’s Guardian Schaffa. Guardians control orogenes as they have magical abilities to negate their orogeny and to use it against them. As Essun tries to integrate into Castrima and learn everything she can form the dying Alabaster, who charges her with a mission to end all Seasons, Nassun becomes a powerful orogene at Found Moon.

Obelisk Gate refuses to give us easy solutions to the conflicts of Fifth Season. Essun does not find Nassun, and has in fact almost abandoned the idea of ever finding her. Moreover, Nassun does not turn out to be a stereotypical loving daughter; in fact, she has little affection for a mother who brutally trained her to control her orogeny in secret. She resents her for marrying Jija, who clearly was a still who would never overcome his hatred of orogenes, and for failing to give her more information about her own past. Obelisk Gate avoids the pit trap of so many second installments by keeping the story fast-paced and surprising. It further complicates the overarching plot and expands upon the magical creatures briefly outlined in the previous novel, especially the mysterious stone eaters. However, although I loved the second-person narration in Fifth Season, I found it tedious here. I would have preferred a change in narrator, for although the revelation of the narrator’s identity as Hoa at the end of Fifth Season was a nice plot twist, in Obelisk Gate it becomes frustrating because we have yet to discover why Hoa is retelling the entire story to Essun (presumably). A change in narrators would have brought a breath of air into the story.

Overall, Obelisk Gate engrossed me into the brilliantly complex world of the Stillness as much as its prequel, and kept me on my toes for the final installment.

Nalo Hopkinson’s The Chaos

Chaos

Nalo Hopkinson’s first foray into Young Adult fiction is a highly original, witty, surreal and absurd narrative of self-acceptance and tolerance. Sojourner “Scotch”(a hot Jamaican pepper, named after her dance moves) is a light-skinned teenager with a white Jamaican father and a black American mother living in Toronto. After having suffered bullying for being a branded as a “slut” at her previous school, Scotch struggles to be accepted and dreams of leaving the parental house to live independently with her brother. In the middle of teenage friendships, heartache, and sexual awareness happens the Chaos, a worldwide catastrophe that turns real the most absurd dark fantasies: a house acquires prehistorical bird-legs; men are turned into purple hippopotamuses with tiny party hats or a mountain of Jelly Beans; a gigantic volcano self-erects in the middle of the Toronto lake, and erupts plastic name tags and light bulbs; strange ghosts follow people around and whisper into their ears. And while the world is going visibly crazy, the disturbing black blemishes on Scotch’s skin continue to grow, menacing to envelop her whole.

The Chaos‘s characters, which besides Scotch include gay and lesbian friends, one of whom is in a wheelchair, as well as a successful polyamorous relationship, cleverly negotiates themes of tolerance, queerness, sexual awakening, racism and colorism, ableism, and mental illness–and all of this in some 250 pages. The power of the novel resides in its unapologetic absurdity as well as in its well-thought out teenage voices who make mistakes and learn to accept themselves and others. Overall, The Chaos feels like a literal, PG rendition of the podcast Welcome to Nightvale. While some of the most surreal scenes may lose some readers who have little patience for unexplained absurdities, others will rejoice in the light-heartedness and humor of the novel. Others like me will delight in the wide arrays of usually largely absent characters and themes.