Before I start, I have to say that this book's cover is my favourite of the trilogy. I love its colours and beautiful stone design so evocative of past civilisations' architecture.
The non-linear plot of two past timelines and a present one converged towards the end of the first book, and The Obelisk Gate takes the story forward almost immediately with the second person present POV of Essun. There are two new third-person POVs. One is a character from the first book, Schaffa, and another which was only mentioned but not seen, Nassun. Both of whom played a significant role in Essun's story and added new empathetic layers into the narrative. Schaffa's perspective imparted some required insights into the Guardians, while Nassun's afforded the reader with the story of her relationship with her mother and father, and her path towards an inevitable destiny following that fateful day in Tirimo.
There is something about the 2nd person POV in this trilogy that <i>just worked</i> for me. It gets inside my head. I feel as Essun does. I see what she sees. It is almost scarily immersive how it gets into my psyche. Her character is insanely captivating. She is a woman who, being an orogene, have been through and seen so many horrors that she no longer trusts the ordinary people to not bring harm to her and the ones she loves. The prejudice levelled against the orogenes in the Stillness is simply inhuman; orogenes are treated as less than humans and must be controlled and made as tools, and even a father can kill his children who are discovered to be cursed with the power.
The narrative in The Broken Earth has been anything but ordinary, and this even extends to the unusually beautiful love story which is far from your typical romance. Moreover, as this was told in Essun's 2nd person POV, I seemed to feel the emotions more acutely than I ever had before. I very seldom mention love stories in my reviews, but this one was just too special to ignore.
You've hardened so much without this. Without him. You seem strong, healthy, but inside you feel like he looks; nothing but brittle stone and scars, prone to cracking if you bend too much.You try to smile, and fail. He doesn't try. You just look at each other. It's nothing and everything at once.
Oh rusts, that was so beautifully poignant that it hurts.
Two things which made this volume feel like a middle book. Firstly, it has a lot more exposition around the obelisks, orogeny and magic, and the stone-eaters. All which I find fascinating, and not just a wee bit mind-bending. And then, we have the plotlines of all the POV characters which feel like an anticipatory build-up to the finale of the trilogy.
Notwithstanding, it was a brilliantly written sequel, and I will be plunging straight into The Stone Sky for the conclusion, one which I expect to be even more emotionally powerful.