The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
Published August 15, 2017
With the last book in any trilogy, there is a sense of trepidation as I turn the pages. Will the novel live up to my high expectations? Will it provide answers for all of the questions asked in previous volumes? And, most importantly, will the final pages of the book deliver a satisfying conclusion to the series? With Jemisin’s The Stone Sky, the answer is yes, yes, and yes! Overall the book may be more of a 4.5 stars for me, but I have to throw in that extra half star for closing out this epic trilogy in such a powerful way.
The Stone Sky is set, like its predecessors, in the Stillness, a single supercontinent where Earthquakes occur frequently and the aftermath every few centuries results in a “Fifth Season”. Seasons are sporadic climate events where the sky turns ashy, earthquakes become frequent, and even the local flora and fauna become hostile. This latest and last apocalyptic event, the Yumenes Rifting, will cause the loss of all life, unless a powerful orogene – someone born with the ability to manipulate thermodynamics – can harness the power of the obelisks to return the wayward moon to its orbit and put an end to the Seasons once and for all.
Continuing the story from the Hugo Award-winning Obelisk Gate, – and I’d be shocked if The Stone Sky isn’t at least nominated next year as well – The Stone Sky presents us with two candidates. Essun, a middle-aged woman and skilled orogene, and her pre-teen daughter Nassun. Both orogenes, they have each lived through horror, watched the people they love turn against them, and have even killed. While Nassun has experienced only heartbreak and fear at the hands of humans, Essun has finally found belonging in a community of orogenes and “stills” who work together to survive. This fundamental difference is what separates mother and daughter.
The Stone Sky is masterfully written, with Hoa, the Stone Eater, weaving the viewpoints of both orogenes together with his narration that explains his world, the origin of the Obelisks, and how and why the moon was lost. The prose and worldbuilding is as wonderful as before, with Jemisin also providing new settings beyond the Stillness. Interestingly enough, this is the most magical book of the series, providing more fantasy aspects than the series had shown previously, but all are so well set out that they make perfect sense and require little in the way of suspension of disbelief.
I also got the sense, while reading it, that this is an important story. The protagonists are both women-of-colour, marginalized people in a world that oppresses and rejects them. Both characters are powerful and have agency over the choices they make, but they are also allowed to be vulnerable and to seek help without ever being viewed as weaker for having done so. With another character, Jemisin provides meaningful commentary on the enslavement of a race, and the process of de-humanizing them in order to further another civilization’s greed for more, more, more.
The characters continue to be at the forefront of Jemisin’s story. Essun in particular has such a fantastic arc over the course of the series, going from a cautious woman trying to pass for a “still” and protect her family, to a bitter and independent woman who trusts no one, to finally finding acceptance and a sort of ‘found family’ among the residents of Castrima. Nassun’s journey is more fraught and heartbreaking, but no less engaging. The secondary characters, from a transgendered character, the brilliant, but scattered Tonkee, to mysterious Hoa, and to patient Lerna, are all people I cared about and rooted for.
I also love that although the series is not without romantic and sexual relationships, it’s platonic and familial relationships that form the core of the story. All of the relationships are so well-written and each has a unique dynamic.
The Stone Sky is an incredible achievement, a moving and epic final part to a trilogy that should be read by every single fan of fantasy fiction, and probably by many others who don’t consider themselves fans of the genre.