Review: The Stone Sky

Posted: December 12, 2017 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: N.K. Jemisin, Fantasy

Essun plans to move the moon back into orbit around the earth, and in THE OBELISK GATE she learned that there may very well be a cost–her own life–if she attempts it. But first, she needs to find her daughter Nassun, who, it’s turning out, is as powerful an orogene as her mother.

Yet so many things still stand in Essun’s way.

So many questions are answered in THE STONE SKY (Amazon). We finally learn why Essun’s chapters are told in second person. We also learn where the stone eaters came from, what exactly the guardians are for, and why the seasons started happening. There is so much to cover in order for Jemisin to finish the book satisfactorily. The question is, does she?

The story is told between three PoVs: Essun (via 2nd person), Nassun, and new character Houwha, switching back and forth between pre-Season civilizations and present-day chapters. We spent the first two books really getting to know Essun, and Nassun is only 10 years old (hence not much really to explore), so it’s Houwha’s situation that demands most of our attention. His is a time of advanced technology, so much so that he was created in order to be able to, along with others like him, activate an engine that will draw so much magic from the earth that the peoples of the world will never know starvation or want for any luxury ever again. Of course, there are consequences. I suspect that if you read THE FIFTH SEASON and THE OBELISK GATE that you will have an inkling of what’s going to happen.

THE STONE SKY, and by association the first two books of the trilogy, are not easy books to read. The style is unlike what you’ve read before, these characters are familiar yet also incredibly foreign. The mere fact that society is built around surviving the seasons is enough to tell you that this season will be brutal and often unfair. You will also learn that it wasn’t always like this, that there was a time of advanced technology, but the hubris of humanity brought down their own destruction, barely leaving their posterity a hardscrabble existence.

The novel is difficult to read because Jemisin doesn’t shy away from themes of race, discrimination, how greed causes a society’s destruction, and the psychological fallout of abuse–all of which were occasionally heavy-handed, but that didn’t take away my enjoyment of how she told the story. There are, however, redemptive themes of love and death; family, including the ones given to you and the ones you choose. The prose is well-crafted, as usual.

Final entry in The Broken Earth series. THE STONE SKY places the chesspieces for a predictable ending that, despite its flaws, is beautifully written.

Now for the problematic stuff.

Some sections my eyes glazed over because it got a little technical with geophysics and the minutiae involved with chemistry stuff. Also, the author keeps a character status quo, electing to focus on setting and finishing off the story, so there isn’t much character arc; too many of the secondary characters are difficult to like, which is mostly because they were hard to understand or relate to (but that doesn’t mean they weren’t uninteresting).

The storyline wasn’t anything special, it was all about the chess piece placement that had to occur in order to set everything up for the ending. There’s a series of events in the novel, sure, but the majority of the story is told as the comm of Castrima slogs from one place to another while Essun mopes about her current condition and inability to chase off after her daughter. There’s also the backstory involved in how the seasons came to be–which is long, a little confusing, and not as engaging as the present-day events.

I was sad that the ending fell flat. Which is too bad because I really liked the first two books. The potential ending was telegraphed so strongly that it made the ending predictable (I almost could have written it myself). There wasn’t really a ‘wow’ moment, which after all the buildup made the ending less engaging for me personally. At the end I was left with unanswered questions that made me feel like the author didn’t have time to add to the story because she just needed to finish the dang trilogy.

Is it the masterpiece some claim it to be? This jury’s still out, maybe I’ll change my mind the more time I have to digest it, but I do know this: the setting is spectacular, her characters are engrossing, but the plot…meh. I look back over the series and the plot is so basic (note that it took me only three (3!) sentences to bring you up to speed of where the plot was heading for this novel). However, you really won’t care about the mediocre pacing because of the care Jemisin took to tell you Essun’s story, a story that spans decades of learning, love, suffering, and a desire to use her fantastic ability to save the world.

  • Recommended Age: 14+
  • Language: Not much
  • Violence: Yes, seasons are cruel and so is Father Earth
  • Sex: Referenced, including LGBT

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