The Obelisk Gate (2016), the second book of N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, is the only book of the trilogy to follow two narrative threads instead of three–the first being Essun at Castrima where she was reunited with Alabaster at the end of Book 1, and the second circling back to what happened to Nassun when she left Tirimo with Jija right after he killed Uche at the beginning of Book 1. Essun’s thread is still relayed in the second person as it was in the first book, while Nassun’s is told in the third person. (Schaffa gets two point-of-view chapters, but not enough to qualify for a full-blown thread.)
In Book 2 we learn that Jija figures out his daughter Nassun is an orogen because she gave a diamond she found via her orogeny to a lorist she wanted to learn from, and the lorist gives the diamond to Jija. When Uche knows Jija has it in his pocket, Jija figures out that Uche is an orogen too, and kills him. Nassun comes in shortly afterward and escapes a similar fate mainly by virtue of some inadvertent emotional manipulation (primarily calling him “Daddy”). Jija and Nassun travel north for a year trying to get to a place where Jija has heard there is a cure for orogeny, which he continues to be conflicted about, even when Nassun uses it to save him. When they get close to their destination, they’re saved from a group of bandits by none other than Schaffa, who we’ve learned escaped his literally explosive confrontation with Syen at the end of Book 1 by virtue of calling on a power that ended up claiming a lot of his former self and memories, so he’s essentially a different person now.
Schaffa runs a community of orogenes known as Found Moon within the comm of Jekity, where he teaches and bonds with Nassun, much to Jija’s consternation. Nassun learns she’s able to connect to a sapphire obelisk floating nearby, though the first time the connection is inadvertent and causes her to turn another young orogene to stone. She then uses this power to help Schaffa and two other guardians at the nearby Antarctic Fulcrum (which she sessed while connected to the obelisk), where the orogenes have killed their guardians, turn everyone there to stone. She wants to use her abilities to remove the knot from Schaffa’s head she sesses is causing him pain, but he won’t let her, saying he won’t be able to protect her if he does; the thing in his head, and the other two Jekity guardians, want to kill her due to her obelisk-related abilities. She is visited by a stone eater she names Steel who says he can help her. When Jija confronts her about not being healed of her orogeny and she admits she likes doing it, he hits her and in response she ices his house. Later, he attacks her again, attempting to kill her, and she uses the sapphire obelisk to turn him to stone.
Meanwhile, in Castrima, Essun learns she can connect to an obelisk at Alabaster’s behest. As his entire body slowly becomes stone, he teaches her to sess the silver threads inside the obelisk and living things that is the stuff of orogeny, known as magic, and explains that he was taken by the stone eater at the end of Book 1 to a city in the earth’s core, where he learned that the obelisks were created to harness the earth’s magic, but then something went wrong and caused the moon to fly out of orbit. He started the rift to create enough energy for an orogene to harness and use the networked obelisks (the Obelisk Gate) to get the moon back so the earth won’t induce future Seasons.
After barricading herself in and being evicted from Castrima’s control room where she was doing research, Tonkee grabs a mysterious piece of metal that then buries itself in her flesh, causing Essun to have to cut off her arm. Hoa disappears from Castrima for awhile then returns saying he was fighting stone eaters who want to stop him from achieving his vision. Eventually Castrima gets a message from the nearby bigger comm of Rennanis that Rennanis wants to requisition them; a stone eater shows up to say the comm can join them–except for orogenes, a condition that upsets the delicate balance Ykka the Castrima leader has brokered between stills and orogenes. This stone eater grievously injures Hoa, who re-hatches himself through a geode, revealing himself to be the stone eater that was trapped in the obelisk Syen raised from the harbor in Allia in Book 1. Hoa says the Gray Man stone eater’s agenda is to let humanity die, so he wants to stop Alabaster’s objective of using the Obelisk Gate to re-harness the moon, which would end Earth’s wrath and the Seasons with it. As tensions between stills and orogenes in Castrima escalate, Essun kills a still who’s attacking a rogga child (triggering her because of what happened to her son Uche), and is going to kill more before Alabaster stops her, but the effort of doing so kills him in turn.
When the Rennanis army attacks Castrima, it turns out that Ykka knows how to network orogenes together, and uses their combined energy to incite deadly boil bugs to attack their attackers. Connected in this network to Ykka, Essun finally realizes how orogeny and magic can work together to be even more powerful. When stone eaters attack, Essun calls on the onyx obelisk, whose power almost kills her, but she manages to use it to call the other obelisks and traps the stone eaters inside them. Once Castrima is secure, she uses the Obelisk Gate to track Nassun (which Nassun sesses in turn). Using the Obelisk Gate turns one of Essun’s arms to stone. The End.
In this second installment we get clues as to the larger function of the obelisks as conductors of this substance of life known as magic. We also get the explanation of why Hoa is so dedicated to Essun–she was the one who freed him from the obelisk he was trapped in. And a relationship forms between Schaffa and Nassun that is the antithesis to both the relationship Nassun has with her mother and that Essun, once Syen, had with the former Schaffa. There’s also the conflict between orogenes who are Fulcrum-trained and those who aren’t (Ykka); pros and cons are presented for each but it’s what Essun learns when she’s connected to Ykka, who hasn’t learned to suppress herself in the way Fulcrum-trained orogenes have, that leads her to be able to open the Obelisk Gate and achieve her goal of saving Castrima–saving it, at least, from its external conflict.
1 Nassun, who wanted to become a lorist, gives a diamond to a visiting one who this lorist then gives to her father, Jija, which is how he figures out she is an orogen; Uche asks about the diamond in his pocket when he shouldn’t know it’s there, which is when Jija kills him. Nassun walks in shortly thereafter and he leaves with her.
2 Essun goes to see if she can connect with an obelisk and Ykka insists on coming along; Essun is successful.
3 Schaffa survives the blast Essun induced with the obelisk on the ship at the end of Book 1 by calling on a power that costs a price to help him survive–a significant chunk of his identity and memories. A man finds him when he washes up on the beach and takes him to his fishing comm, where a boy, Eitz, realizes from his uniform he’s a guardian and who Schaffa takes with him after he kills his family.
4 A hunter returns to Castrima infested with boil bugs that Essun is able to remove with her orogeny, but they’ve done enough damage the man has to be killed.
5 The end-of-the-world rift occurs as Nassun and Jija are on the road and Nassun diverts it to prevent it from killing them.
6 Essun talks to Tonki about how long humans and obelisks have existed, and then to Alabaster, who tells her she has to learn to manipulate the stuff of orogeny that the obelisks contain–silver threads once known as “magic.”
7 After a year of traveling Nassun and Jija arrive in the Arctic, where Jija’s heard a rumor there’s a cure for orogeny, and when they’re accosted by bandits they’re saved–by Schaffa.
8 Essun integrates into the routines of helping out Castrima. She joins a hunting party who sees another group crucified on trees as some kind of territorial message. She starts training the comm’s younger orogenes. She argues with Alabaster about why he caused the rifting and he agrees to tell her everything.
9 Nassun and Jija are taken into the comm of Jekity, which has a community for its orogenes called Found Moon. Nassun bonds with Schaffa during her training, and can sess silver threads in him, and how his sessipina causes him pain.
10 Alabaster tells Essun what happened to him after the stone eater took him at the end of book 1–he’s taken to a city at the earth’s core, where he learns how the obelisks were created to harness the earth’s magic, but then something went wrong and the moon was thrown out of orbit. He tells Essun why he caused the rift that started the season–it will provide enough energy for an orogen to harness and channel through all the obelisks networked together (the obelisk gate) to return the moon to its orbit, which will prevent the earth from causing future seasons.
11 Schaffa dreams of his past and resists the urge of his sessipina to compel Nassun into obedience.
12 Nassun is able to sess the silver inside Schaffa and elsewhere. When she’s startled awake by another orogen boy, Eitz, she instinctively reaches for an obelisk and inadvertently turns him to stone. Schaffa tells Jija (and has to threaten him) that Nassun will be staying at Found Moon from now on. He tells Nassun she has a higher purpose in remedying an old mistake he had a part in.
13 Alabaster talks about using node maintainers to help him open the obelisk gate (i.e., connecting and channeling multiple obelisks). Tonkee has barricaded herself in Castrima’s control room to do research, and when Ykka kicks her out for this, Tonkee tries to take a mysterious piece of iron (which seems to possibly be what’s in Guardians’ heads that gives them their powers) and it burrows into her body and Essun sesses silver threads coming from it, then has to cut off Tonkee’s arm to stop it.
interlude: Hoa says stone eaters are slowly devouring Castrima and that in his recent absence he’s been killing them. There is one stone eater in particular who has a vision opposite to his that he’s trying to fight.
14 Six months pass and Castrima is running out of food. One day they get a message that the nearby comm of Rennanis wants to requisition them, and Essun sesses an army nearby. A stone eater shows up from there saying Castrima can join them, except for its orogenes, sowing discord. Essun discovers Hoa in her room almost destroyed by this other stone eater, and feeds him his stones. He rehatches through a geode as the stone eater she saw trapped in the obelisk in Allia.
15 Nassun and Jekity’s three guardians (including Schaffa) visit the Antarctic Fulcrum that Nassun sessed through an obelisk. Learning these orogenes killed their guardians, the Jekity guardians attack, and Nassun helps by using an obelisk to turning everyone there into stone. The other guardians and the thing in Schaffa’s head want to kill her for this, but Schaffa protects her. A stone eater visits Nassun saying he can help her.
16 Hoa tells Ykka and Essun that the gray stone eater (who’s behind the Rennanis threat) wants to wipe out humankind and make sure no one else opens the Obelisk Gate so the season will wear on and wipe everyone out. Ykka and Essun argue whether they can trust Castrima’s stills under threat of an attack.
17 Nassun practices her orogeny to the point where she think she can heal the thing in Schaffa’s head that causes him pain, but he won’t let her because then he won’t be able to protect her from the other Guardians. She goes to see Jija, who hits her when she says she’s not trying to cure herself of orogeny, but get better at it, and she ices his house.
18 Hoa says actually the Gray Man stone eater does want Essun to open the Obelisk Gate, but for his own purposes. As Ykka is having people vote on how to respond to Rennanis, there’s an altercation where a still accuses a rogga of attacking them, and to keep peace Ykka kills the rogga. Then Essun sesses a still attacking a rogga child and kills her using an obelisk, and Alabaster keeps her from killing more people, which kills him. Essun says the comm won’t vote, or she’ll kill them.
interlude: Hoa tries and fails to make a truce with Gray Man.
19 Rennanis attacks after Essun tries to speak to their representative Danel and is stabbed. Ykka knows how to network orogenes to generate enough power to excite the boil bugs into swarming the attackers. When Essun’s connected to Ykka she sees how magic is connected to everything and the obelisks, and she finally understands how orogeny and magic can work together to amplify each other’s power. The stone eaters attack and then Essun calls the onyx obelisk which almost swallows her but then she’s able to use it to call the other obelisks and traps some stone eaters inside them. With Castrima safe she uses the Obelisk Gate to track Nassun.
interlude: Hoa puts Essun to bed; one of her arms has turned to stone. Hoa talks to Lerna about the geode of Castrima being badly damaged in the fight, but now that Rennanis is empty/killed they can go there.
20 Nassun sesses the Obelisk Gate and her mother, then Jija attacks her with a knife and she uses the sapphire obelisk to turn him to stone.