- Genre: fantasy, science-fantasy, post-apocalypse
- Series: The Broken Earth, part 3
- Pages: 416
The final book of the Broken Earth trilogy. The story continues right where The Obelisk Gate left it. Essun is still with Ykka and the Castrima comm, but they are on the move after the disastrous conflict with Rennanis. Castrima is still an experiment to see whether roggas and stills can muster enough faith to live together. Nassun attaches herself to Schaffa, who is a sort-of stand-in father for her. Schaffa himself has changed enough from being a regular Guardian to make Nassun’s attachment something other than Stockholm syndrome. They too are on the move, including the loyal Obelisks that follow them in the sky. Hoa, the stone boy, gets his own point of view chapters.
The Stone Sky is not a high-octane story full of action. Like The Obelisk Gate, it follows Essun and Nassun on rather slow paths of personal change, with the difference that they now both travel for long distances. While a deeper exploration of past civilizations is also included and is quite interesting by itself, it is the emotional connections and relationships between the characters that make this novel great. The final third is a whirlwind of both epic and emotionally hard-hitting scenes, where the fate of the characters and the whole planet itself are intertwined.
The beauty of N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy lies in her mature exploration of trauma. Essun and Nassun are very realistic and traumatic characters, but the entire world and society in this series revolves around trauma. There is personal trauma and geological trauma, and Jemisin makes an elegant equation between the two, where the Orogenes form the link in between. Tectonic stress equals unresolved emotion. A city built upon a geological fault line equals a dream or a personality built upon pain. She explains one with the other. What, for example, are the Guardians if not the guardians of keeping a dream alive, only to prevent the healing of a deeper pain? Jemisin’s world-building is a layout of the human psyche, even including a traumatized father Earth.
The Fifth Season (2015) started with the destruction of the world, which was an emotional liberation and the start of a story of emotional healing. The first novel followed Essun in various moments in her life, showing how her personality was shaped over time through repeated traumatic experiences. In her first meeting with a Guardian, for example, her hand is broken and that pain is the foundation for a change in character. The Obelisk Gate (2016) kept following her journey of personal change after the great rift, all the while exploring how we are the product of the people we meet in our lives. A parallel journey shows her daughter Nassun, who is also being chiseled by fateful encounters, going down a similar path of trauma as her mother. A meeting between them will surely be earth-shattering, both literal and emotional. Thus, The Stone Sky (2017) becomes about confronting yourself via your own children.
Jemisin’s world-building is incredibly grim and the sources of pain and trauma are always oppression of one people by another people. She magnifies this to an extreme, and frankly, these messages are so overblown that it takes me out of the story. Every chapter ends with an historical account of Orogenes sacrificing themselves or doing good and getting murdered for it. I get it. Stop repeating it again and again. But the ultimate question becomes: is this a world worth saving? Will the Castrima experiment of roggas and stills living together work out?
This book series has a very strong emotional core that is easily as well-crafted as its world. In fact, this world-building does not quite work for me when talking about the social structures, even though the orogeny is fascinating and Jemisin’s research into geology brings a depth to it. But the main reason that the story works is the character-building. Essun and Nassun feel like real people and their emotional struggles are realistic. They play out in a way that makes me suspect that Jemisin poured a lot of herself into this series.
The Stone Sky is a great conclusion to a series that I’m sure will stand the test of time as a classic. This is the best series to ever feature a mother as the chief heroine, with a masterful treatment of all the heavy, emotional relationships that come with that, including a deep, respectful treatment of trauma, confrontation and personal growth. Add to that a fascinating, unique science-fantasy world that ties directly into Essun’s personal struggles and we get a work of singular power.
- My rating: 9/10