Bookshot #167: The Stone Sky
The Broken Earth Trilogy is brought to an incredible conclusion with the final volume of the trilogy,
The Stone Sky. Picking up where the events of the last book, The Obelisk Gate left off, the former inhabitants of Castrima-under are moving north, after their battle/invasion from rival comm Rennanis compromises the geode they were using to power and live in the city, making it uninhabitable. Essun, who falls into a coma at the end of The Obelisk Gate (from using it to save the people, but not the comm itself of Castrima) finally awakes to find that her arm has turned to stone.
She realizes that she is destined to suffer Alabaster's fate and be turned to stone and ingested by a stone eater for purposes unknown. (We get some hints that maybe, perhaps, both Alabaster and she will be reborn as stone eaters, a fact confirmed at the end of the book.) She can't risk using more orogeny/magic because it will turn her to stone faster and she has a mission to accomplish. The moon is coming to its closet point in its long elliptical orbit, so she's got a limited amount of time to get across the world, use the Obelisk Gate to catch it and end Fifth Seasons forever.
Her daughter, Nassun is a world away with her Guardian, Schaffa, recovering from the shock of using an obelisk to kill her father by turning him to stone. Despondent, angry, and wishing to free Schaffa from his corestone (which all Guardians have implanted in the base of their neck) which causes him constant pain, she decides to use the gate to grab the Moon, and crash it into the Earth, destroying everybody.
Nassun and Schaffa journey to an abandoned city in the Antarctic, where an ancient vehicle, summoned by the stone eater Steel, shows up to transport them to Corepoint. On the way there, Nassun discovers that the Earth, (long personified by the characters as being 'evil' and 'angry that his child the Moon was stolen from him' is actually alive and the source of magic in the world. She also learns that the iron shards/corestones embedded in Schaffa and all the other Guardians are infused with the magic at the Earth's core and it is he, Father Earth, who controls them and powers their abilities and longevity. The trip to Corepoint nearly kills Schaffa and Nassun spends the remaining time before the Moon reaches it's closest point tending for him as best she can.
Essun advised of what her daughter intends, sets out to stop her with the assistance of her stone eater, Hoa, who advises her he can transport her through the Earth to Corepoint, where Nassun and Schaffa are going. First, Essun sees the remnants of Castrima to the safety of the now abandoned city of Rennanis, across a brutal desert crossing that claims the lives of many. Eventually, she, Tonkee, Hjarka, Danel, and Lerna (who she discovers has impregnated her) prepare to go to Corepoint to stop Nassun-- on the way there, however, Hoa is attacked by rival stone eaters and Lerna is killed.
In flashbacks, we find out the story of the stone eaters, specifically Hoa who tells of the distant past, where human technology has advanced to the point where biotechnology has fused with magic and a network of obelisks (hey, that sounds familiar!) has been created to take Earth's magical essence to create an inexhaustible form of energy. To keep it running, scientists have genetically engineered 'tuners' to control the Gate and keep it running, trapping them forever as 'batteries' for magical energy, in torment and pain forever. Rather than accept this fate, Hoa (one of the Tuners) convinces the rest to turn the Gate against the city of Syl Anagist, destroying it rather than being held captive by them forever. The confrontation that results leads to the Moon being ejected from its orbit and the energies in the obelisk network crashing humanity back to a dark age- 'The Shattering' that began the first cycle of Fifth Seasons, so long ago. Hoa and the other 'tuners' are transformed into the Stone Eaters.
Arriving at Corepoint, there is a furious confrontation between Mother and Daughter and soon they are locked in a battle for control of the Obelisk Gate, and neither can gain the upper hand. With humanity's fate in balance, one of them must yield and make a choice that decides the fate of everyone and the survival of humanity itself.
I will freely admit that I have been reading a lot of Sanderson lately and before that I did a re-read of Wheel of Time, so you cannot imagine how refreshing it is to read such a self-contained trilogy that doesn't sprawl across a dozen books in search of an ending. You can write epic fantasy in three novels, who knew? (Apparently N.K. Jemisin did.) This entire trilogy felt like a breath of fresh air. The writing is beautiful, and the use of the second-person point of view is a bit disconcerting in the first book, but by the last book, you're entirely used to it.
What makes these books unique is the blending of science fiction, fantasy, and post-apocalyptic themes in a way that I have never encountered before- Jemisin at one point, even makes reference to Clarke's Law somewhere along the way, and the flashbacks in this book sort of flip the ratio from 2/3rds fantasy, 1/3 sci-fi to the opposite. But Jemisin also knows that science fiction- if not writing in general, is at its best when it comments on the society we live in, and while the current times of nonsense that we live in means that there will be readers who toss this book away and dismiss it out of hand as 'woke' but that would be a mistake. The themes of discrimination and racism that the orogenes experience throughout this book are powerful, painful, and sometimes outright raw. Do these topics offend the delicate sensibilities of some? Undoubtedly. But you cannot say that they are badly written.
If there is one, tiny nit to pick, it might be the fate of Lerna. I don't object to his death-- the world these characters inhabit is a brutal one, especially given the context of the Season that Alabaster touches off in the first book, but Lerna and Essun find out she's pregnant, go to Corepoint, and then he's gone. It feels pretty abrupt and while the two of them reach an understanding, that if he asked her to stay and have the child she would, he wasn't going to ask knowing how important saving Nassun is to her, outside of that it seems... weirdly shoe-horned in and almost jarring, in a way. But not a deal breaker by any stretch of the imagination. (And who knows: maybe Jemisin did more with this in earlier drafts and for the sake of brevity, it had to be trimmed back?)
Overall: I love these characters. I love the story. I picked my way through this one at first, but after a certain point, I just couldn't put it down and flew through the rest. The Stone Sky is a beautiful, perfect ending to The Broken Earth Trilogy. If you haven't picked up these books, you should. They won't disappoint you, I promise and with the final volume, Jemisin sticks the landing on this trilogy and then some. My Grade: ***** out of *****