Saturday, September 16, 2017

Book Review: The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

The Stone Sky is the third and final book of The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. It follows after Hugo award-winning The Obelisk Gate, which itself follows Hugo award-winning The Fifth Season. Could The Stone Sky be three times in a row for Jemisin? Very much so as this book surpasses the prior two books in practically every way possible.

Read on for my spoiler-free review, though minor points of the prior two books are fair game.

Overall Impression
This was an incredible, epic journey that also manages to be uniquely personal and human. The characters are much the same as before, but we get to see them in new situations that force them to re-think who they are and what they live for. We get a far closer look at the history of this world in addition to tying up all the relevant plot ends. It's a fitting conclusion to The Broken Earth trilogy.

Jemisin frequently breaks from the norm when it comes to her narrative style and this book is no different. Essun's chapters are your chapters, that is, they are told in the rare 2nd person. Nassun's on the other hand, are told in the much more common 3rd person. As if that isn't enough, there is also a set of chapters told in first person. This gives each set of characters a unique feel that goes beyond their setting or attributes.

Story-wise we pick up shortly after events from The Obelisk Gate and speed on as the various characters try to survive the Season while at the same time planning for the use of the Gate. One set of chapters is set in the distant path and we get to see the origin of the Gate and how events led up to the Shattering and the cycle of Seasons.

Except for a sprinkling of secondary characters, we don't have too many new faces here. The story is still focused strongly on Essun as she searches for her daughter Nassun. We also see plenty of Hoa, Essun's stone eater friend and Schaffa, Essun's former Guardian who travels with Nassun. All of the characters are driven by their strong wills, which sometimes put them at odds with each other. It was very satisfying to see the natural conclusion as the plot lines converged and distant characters met up.

Setting / World Building
This book knocks it off of the park when it comes to its setting. From the intriguing, and deadly, Seasons, to orogeny and magic, to the Earth and the Moon, to the obelisks themselves, there is so much here that appeals to fans of science, fantasy, and fiction. In this book, we get some rewarding answers as to the nature of the obelisks and what happened in the distant path that led to the Seasons.

It's not all rosy sunshine, though. We already know the strong racist tendencies of humans towards orogenes, or as they are derogatorily called, roggas. Those chapters showing us the past of this world show that this is a sad state of affairs for humanity in general, not just in this piece of fiction. Whether you are Sylanagistine or Niess, still or orogene, white or black, those in power grow in power at the expense of the oppressed. It is a hard truth, but one that is important to be aware of so that the individual, and hopefully society as a whole, can improve:
They’re afraid because we exist, she says. There’s nothing we did to provoke their fear, other than exist. There’s nothing we can do to earn their approval, except stop existing— so we can either die like they want, or laugh at their cowardice and go on with our lives.

Final Thoughts
This is an incredible book and likely among the best I've read this year. I strongly recommend The Broken Earth trilogy as the best that N.K. Jemisin has to offer thus far. Not only does it have an engaging plot, interesting narrative style, amazing setting, and intriguing characters, it also delves into deeper themes that are timeless and relevant for everyone. How do we protect those weaker than us while striving for advancement? How do we deal with our fear of those different from us? How do we respond to those that hate us? What does it mean to be part of a family? What does it mean to be human? This and so much more makes The Broken Earth trilogy a masterpiece of modern science fiction and fantasy.

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