Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women.
Essun has inherited the phenomenal power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every outcast child can grow up safe.
For Nassun, her mother’s mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world, and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed.
Let me be frank about my opinions of this book up front. The Stone Sky is magnificent and brings N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy to a triumphal close. If you want to TL;DR this review, you can now click away and go and buy this entire series. But for those of you who want to know more about why I feel this way, I will try to be somewhat coherent in discussing what I loved about this book and why I think so highly of it.
What The Stone Sky brought home to me was how skilfully Jemisin has structured this entire series. The way the ending pulls everything together and explains not just the plot, but also the narrative choice of telling it in the tenses she used. The second person narration of the Essun sections made complete and utter sense. The structure of the novel was also wonderful jumping between the past and the present with each elucidating the other, but also jumping between forms of narration, going from first to second to third and back. It was all so well planned and executed amazingly.
Beyond the structuring, the writing is gorgeous. Jemisin can convey so much feeling through her words, both love and anger. I was left almost in tears in a corridor at the Worldcon venue in Helsinki reading a scene between Schaffa and Nassun, but I also felt so angry on the characters’ behalf throughout the book. Jemisin’s sentences are punchy and sharp, yet at times verging on poetic. Her development of the language within the book — in the form of the curses used, the way classes and professions are named — are great, certainly if you take the evolution between the language of Hoa’s youth to Essun’s era in to account.
I loved learning more about the genesis of the stone eaters. Hoa’s history and his description of their slow awakening to their true nature and their position in the world. The societal elements and changes at play at that time were fascinating and horrifying. The way Jemisin mirrors the upheaval of power in Hoa’s storyline to the upheaval of power in Essun’s story after the Great Rifting caused by Alabaster, was well done and served to both explain and condemn the position of orogenes in society.
While I found the social commentary in the book (and series) fascinating, what broke me and what was central to this book for me, were the relationships in the narrative. Whether it is the bond between Essun and Hoa, the troubled relationship between Essun and Nassun, or the strange connection between Schaffa and Nassun, they each touched me in a different way. The unconditional love between Nassun and Schaffa was both a balm for a young child in desperate need of a non-judgemental parental figure and a form of atonement for Schaffa. Nassun’s need for love felt so pure and was so painful to recognise. Schaffa fills the void in her heart and for the reader it is painful to realise that in a very real way Schaffa is also responsible for the rift between Nassun and her mother. It was a relationship that left me conflicted and as mentioned earlier almost crying in public.
The Nassun/Essun dynamic hit very close to home for me. As a daughter who had a troubled relationship with her mother before it broke off completely, and as a mother to two daughters one of my greatest fears is to repeat history. And that made both Essun’s point of view and Nassun’s totally understandable to me. Sometimes love is not enough to overcome the past. And sometimes things done with the best of intentions can break bonds beyond repair. It is hard and heart-breaking to realise this and to come to terms with it. For Nassun love and anger are so closely bound when it comes to her mother that it is impossible to separate them anymore. And yet in the end, there is understanding and maybe forgiveness.
If anyone, N.K. Jemisin should definitely pull off the Hugo hat trick with this series, because it is one of the best, if not the best series I’ve read in the past few years. It’s been announced that this trilogy is to be developed as a TV series and I seriously cannot freaking wait to see the stunning world Jemisin has created to be reflected on the screen. The Broken Earth was never an easy series to read, it is emotionally taxing in many ways, but it is absolutely worth that investment of time and energy, because it is transformative if you let it be.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.