The Stone Sky

You may recall that prior to reading The Fifth Season a little over a year ago, though N. K. Jemisin had won the Hugo Award for best novel two years in a row, thus far I had only read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms from her. That novel was a solid debut, no doubt about it. Still, like most speculative fiction debuts, it featured a number of flaws. Most notably a first-person narrative, which can be quite tricky, a corny love story, and some decidedly clichéd villains. And yet, overall, Jemisin's fantasy debut turned out to be an imaginative and enjoyable read. And even if the characterization was subpar, the author scored points for exploring themes such as slavery, sexism, racism, and the abuse of power. She wove these deeper issues throughout the various plotlines, sometimes subtly in the background and sometimes in more flagrant fashion. Regardless of how it was done, this was what ultimately gave soul to the novel.

And because everyone opined that this was her best work to date, I finally elected to read The Fifth Season. Needless to say, the book delivered on all fronts and I understood why it was nominated for all those genre literary prizes. Building on its predecessor's storylines, Jemisin elevated her game even more in The Obelisk Gate, making it an even better novel. The Broken Earth trilogy was shaping up to be one of the most original SFF series of the new millennium and I was looking forward to discovering how it would all come together in The Stone Sky.

Well, this isn't exactly breaking news, but I'm happy to report that N. K. Jemisin knocked it out of the park. And The Stone Sky isn't merely a homerun, it's a grand slam!

Here's the blurb:

Humanity will finally be saved or destroyed in the shattering conclusion to the post-apocalyptic and highly acclaimed NYT bestselling trilogy that won the Hugo Award three years in a row.

The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women.

Essun has inherited the power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene 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.

This is the way the world ends… for the last time.

As was the case with The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate, this third installment is another blend of fantasy and science fiction. More fantasy than scifi, mind you, but there is science involved in the premise. The worldbuilding is amazing and by far my favorite aspect of this novel/series. The Earth has changed dramatically and has become an extremely geologically unstable world. Seismic activities cause enormous volcanic eruptions and tsunamis that wipe out vast chunks of the planet's population periodically. These catastrophes generating extended winters are known as Fifth Seasons and they can last for years and decades. The Stillness is the only continent known to exist. Orogenes have the ability to manipulate thermal, kinetic, and related forms of energy to address seismic events. Trained at the Fulcrum and closely supervised by the Guardian order, they are despised and feared due to the potentially devastating powers they wield. In addition to the Fulcrum, there is also a network of nodes manned by orogenes positioned throughout the Stillness to help reduce or quell seismic events. Such an unstable and unforgiving environment makes for a truly original setting, something that we haven't seen before, and I loved everything about it. The Fifth Season began with a new breaking of the world, one that might signal the true end of existence, for this new Fifth Season could last for centuries and even millennia. At the end of the first installment, we were told that there might yet be a way to save civilization from being wiped out. One that involves something known as the moon and the floating obelisks. Things took a turn for the worse in The Obelisk Gate, with the discovery of a faction supporting Father Earth and working toward the annihilation of mankind. Both factions come into play in The Stone Sky, as Essun attempts to bring the moon back into orbit around the Earth and save the world in the process.

With everything coming to a head with Essun's confrontation with her daughter Nassun, factions that have been clashing for millennia will face one another for the last time. With such a premise, one would expect an action-packed showdown of a novel. And yet, in that regard The Stone Sky turned out to be more of an anticlimactic work. Not that it's boring, far from that. It's just that most of the plot moves forward through conversations between various characters, or else the tale mostly progresses through flashback scenes that are essentially Hoa's back story. Personally, this was the most fascinating part of the book, for it provided the answers to basically all the questions raised by the first two volumes. To discover how a highly advanced human civilization lost the moon and created the first breaking of the world was astonishing.

Jemisin wove past and present with panache, even if the lengthy flashback sequences occasionally broke the rhythm of the novel. I don't think there is anything else the author could have done, because readers needed to get the entire back story for Essun and Nassun's storylines to make sense at the end. But it did create some pacing issues in certain portions of the book. Having said that, The Stone Sky remains a page-turner that you'll get through in no time. N. K. Jemisin elevated her game yet again and the revelations keep you begging for more.

The only gripe I had with the first volume was that Jemisin played her cards way too close to her chest. She introduced various captivating concepts and ideas, but provided virtually no answers to any of the questions these raised in readers' minds. Thankfully, The Obelisk Gate offered a number of tantalizing answers that raised the stakes even more. Secrets about the obelisks, the Fulcrum, the stone eaters, the Guardians, orogenes, the moon, and a lot more were unveiled. All of which added new dimensions to an already multilayered tale. The Stone Sky weaves all those threads together to create an impressive tapestry that should leave no one indifferent.

Understandably, Essun returns as a POV character. The second perspective is that of Nassun, her daughter. There is a good balance between their perspectives and one doesn't take predecence over the other as their storylines inexorably move them toward a final confrontation. As mentioned, a considerable chunk of this novel focuses on Hoa's back story, something that sometimes hurt the pace of the book. But since that's where all the great secrets are revealed, there was no helping that. And when mother and daughter finally meet to determine the fate of mankind, Jemisin closes the show in great fashion with an ending that packs a powerful emotional punch.

The Stone Sky deserves the highest possible recommendation. Jemisin's The Broken Earth trilogy is definitely one of the finest speculative fiction series out there. If you have yet to give it a shot, please do so ASAP. Yes, it's that damn good!

The final verdict: 10/10

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